Monday, April 11, 2011

Drink and Be Merry: Director of Wine and Spirits Molly Wismeier

Director of Wine and Spirits
Molly Wismeier
Molly Wismeier’s spirited path starts with a love of the Russian language, which she studied at the University of Iowa before taking a job as a translator in Denver. It was there that she began working with her first wine lists, as a sommelier at Enoteca Wine Bar.

“In a lot of ways, working with wines and spirits encompasses things I am passionate about: history, culture, languages,” Molly explains. “Wine itself is a language, and working in a restaurant with guests, I am, in many ways, a translator. I help them understand and choose the wines that are right for them.”

In 2002 she relocated to Chicago and after stints at Cru Café and Ambria, Molly successfully completed her introductory exam from the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2004. From there she went on to work at the world-renowned Charlie Trotter’s, before joining the team at Epic restaurant, where she helped propel the restaurant to local and national acclaim.

When chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto approached her with to work with them on Restaurant R’evolution and move to New Orleans, it was an opportunity she could not pass up. “New Orleans is an epicenter for food, wine, art, and so much more,” she notes. “It embodies the best of all the things I love in one place.”

In her new role, Wismeier focuses on maintaining a world-class selection of wines from around the world, with an emphasis on the seven nations that originally settled Louisiana and make up the backbone of what has become known as Creole cuisine. She is also in charge of the mixology and beer programs for the restaurant, and has recently been working with Chefs Folse, Tramonto, Denton, and Kimball to develop the beverage program for Bar R’evolution. Below, she offers a sneak peek at what’s to come.

Can you give us a preview of Restaurant R’evolution’s cocktail program?
The foundation of Bar R’evolution will be pre-Prohibition mixology, with a chef-like philosophy. We’re going to approach the bar like a kitchen, creating the cocktails like a chef creates a dish. We’re using fresh and local ingredients and really focusing on the components of the cocktail – texture, acidity, sweetness, fruit components, body, and balance.

The menu focus will be on classic cocktails. For example, our Sazerac will incorporate the best rye whiskey and the best ingredients we can source locally. The pre-Prohibition theme is really our inspiration but we’re going to be interpretive with our cocktails. We’ll have a sling that will use local ingredients, and our signature punch will be made with Hum liqueur, made by (sommelier and renowned mixologist) Adam Seger in Chicago.

A rendering of Bar R'evolution
What would you say is one of the more overlooked elements of mixology?

The type of ice you use. Depending on the liquor in your drink, the ice needs to be the right shape and density to control the rate of melting. The denser your ice is, the slower the ice will melt and the purer the cocktail will remain. We’ll have specific shapes of ice to match the cocktails we’ll be mixing.

What is going to set your bar team apart from other restaurant mixologists and bartenders?
Our goal is to create a bar where people will want to come and visit our bartenders. All of our bartenders and servers will be very well trained in the cocktails of pre-Prohibition. They’ll kind of act like a sommelier at the dinner table, talking to the diner about what they’re in the mood for then guiding them to a drink recommendation, based on their preferences. It’s more than just taking someone’s order and bringing them a drink. Our service will be more interactive and customized. Of course, you’ll still be able to come in and order a rum and Coke if that’s what you want.

Switching gears a little, what can you tell us about the wine program at R’evolution?
To start, we’re going to have an extensive wine by the glass program. We’re focusing on choosing wonderful wines that are going to pair well with all of the different courses and the small plates in the bar, yet still represent the wines people want to drink right now. We’re featuring refreshing whites from South Africa, Portugal and Greece. Guests can also find some classics from Alsace, Bordeaux and Burgundy. We may get to pour some rarer wines by the glass, so the prices will range from $7 to $45 a glass, depending on how rare the wine.

When we open, we’ll also offer some selections from magnums. The pricing will be very reasonable and the experience memorable. Wine ages much more slowly in magnums, so when you taste wine from a magnum it’s a special thing. We’ll probably always have one glass from a magnum that will rotate depending on what we can source.
I’m also really excited that we’ll be able to offer people quite a bit of older, approachable California wines, like a 1974 Heitz, for a reasonable price. We’ll be sourcing some exciting wines that will go really well with the cuisine. The food is going to be so wonderful– there are so many different flavors in each dish. Pairing each with different wines has been very interesting and exciting for me.
Wine Room Rendering
Was it a challenge pairing wine with Creole/Cajun food?
There are quite a lot of pronounced flavors in Creole food, so you need wines that can stand up to those assertive flavors. There’s a lot cream and butter in the dishes, a lot of texture and spice involved. 
We're looking into pairing dishes with Alsatian, German and Slovenian wines. We’re thinking about Cru Beaujolais (Gamay grape) that pairs well with the cuisine and drinks a lot like Pinot Noir.

What other aspects of the program are you excited about?We’re going to be serving local beers, from NOLA Brewery and a line of Abita beers, along with Heiner Brau, which comes from German brewmaster, Henryk Reiner Orlik out of Covington, LA.

We’re also growing fruit and herbs at Chef Folse’s White Oak Plantation to make homemade bitters and ratafias. Another fun element is we’re designing cocktail and beer progressions for pairing with food, so if people come in and want a progression of dishes from the regular menu or the small plates bar menu, they can match cocktails, wine or beer with their meal.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bringing a Bite to the Big Apple…Swamp-Style

Chef Folse and The "Taste of the Bayou" Food Truck
I have been amazed at the huge success of Swamp People. Whether I’m talking to folks from Canada or Illinois, their first comment is about the program and how much they love it. I was approached a few weeks ago about going to New York City to promote the second season premiere of the program. Of course, I said “yes,” grabbed my camouflage chef jacket and headed north. My task: serving swamp delicacies to New Yorkers from the History® channel’s “Taste of the Bayou” food truck.

Crowds gathered to sample the swampland delicacies
The experience was a remarkable celebration of Louisiana cuisine and swampland culture. I climbed aboard our “swamp on wheels” and started dishing out alligator sauce piquante, mallard duck and smoked wild boar sausage gumbo, Louisiana red beans and rice with smoked nutria sausage, Louisiana crawfish étouffée, venison jambalaya and fricassee of swamp rabbit. I have to hand-it to New Yorkers. They were amazingly game to taste anything from the swampland of Louisiana. Over the four-day promotion (March 28 – 31) more than 13,000 free servings were handed out from the “Taste of the Bayou” food truck at prominent locations near Grand Central Station, Bryant Park, Penn Station, the Financial District, the Port Authority, Union Square and Chelsea.

I also had the opportunity to serve at a number of private tastings for executives of A&E Television Networks, Time Warner, Universal McCann, Initiative, Mindshare, Targeteast and ZenithOptimedia. I can assure you, these board rooms were a long way from the bayou.

Beware of Gator
I was thrilled to help promote the second season of Swamp People. The program was the best original series premiere ever on History® and ranked number one in its time period versus all television across key male and adult demographics. The second season premiered last week and can be seen every Thursday at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CT. Swamp People is drawing so much interest nationally and internationally that it’s quickly becoming a fabulous way to recruit visitors to Louisiana. So, come on down, get a taste of the bayou, and soon, you can eat with us, too, at Restaurant R’evolution. What? Of course, gator is on the menu!