I did it! I passed the level 2 Sommelier Certification through the Court of Master Sommeliers program.

Five years of absorbing the knowledge of the geniuses that I work with (hopefully they are not reading this – swollen egos don’t fit through the door at the shop;) Endless summer evenings doing blind tastings with my wine geek buddies and my sweet husband who didn’t seem to mind opening a new bottle every other night – ha!; Advice from my fellow sommelier friends on what to focus on and the do’s and dont’s for the service portion of the exam.

On August 6th, 2011… I walked through the doors of banquet hall C at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in DC. I blind tasted, and felt that I aced it. I took the written portion of the exam, and felt even more confident. The 3rd part of the exam was the part that I was most nervous about… the service portion. I was going to be tested on either champagne service for the table, or aged red wine service. What I hadn’t prepared myself for were the slew of questions that my appointed master sommelier was going to ask. Ms Morgan was kind and very patient. It took no time for me to warm up to her and before I knew it, I felt as comfortable at that stage of my exam as I do on the sales floor at the shop – describing my favorite wines and what they pair best with. I know that I made a couple minor mistakes during the champagne service (she threw me off when she asked for 8 glasses to be poured when only 4 were at the table, and requested that she didn’t need to see the bottle nor did she need to taste….)  But she specifically met with me afterwards, handed me my certificate, and congratulated me on a very impressive performance throughout. I personally feel though that I need to practice all levels of service before I go for my third level of certification (Advanced Sommelier.) Maybe in a few years.

I can’t remember the last time I studied this hard for something. College, probably. Normally, I cringe at the thought of applauding myself – especially in my own blog. But I am damn proud, so here it goes….

“Kheema” and Chenin Blanc

I don’t know if it was the fresh picked jersey tomatoes, the incredibly aromatic home-grown herbs, or the cook’s loyalty to the recipe that made this meal a bit more multi-dimensional than usual…. but this was the best “Kheema” I’ve had in a long time, and the perfect pairing to go alongside. Kheema is something that my kids call “Indian Sloppy Joes” or “Indian style Chili.” It’s usually some sort of finely chopped or ground meat cooked with a bunch of aromatic spices and vegetables, served usually with naan. I had to blog about my meal, because last week, Manish made the most INCREDIBLE Kheema I’ve ever tasted.

Yes, that’s right… I said Manish. He actually taught me how to cook years ago, but claims that he “forgot” ever since I’ve honed my skills. Well, he was the one that was cooking this time. And, instead of what I call the “Indian mom technique” of estimating the ingredients and never jotting them down so as to remember how to make it the exact same way over and over again (the way my moms cook and the way that I often cook,) he followed a recipe to the TEE. The resulting dish had depth, such flavor, and such vibrancy. I can credit the seasonal produce to a certain degree, but let’s face it… Manish deserves a lot of the credit! His finesse and loyalty to adhere to the recipe was much appreciated 🙂 My lesson learned: some things are better left un-touched (ie don’t mess with a good recipe!) Here it is!

Kheema Matar (Chopped Meat and Peas) from the late Ismail Merchant’s Passionate Meals

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, quartered and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
1 1/2 lbs meat (I have used ground chicken or ground turkey OR I have chopped the meat very fine – you can alternatively use beef or lamb but the cooking times will increase slightly so as to cook the meat through thoroughly)
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1 cup green peas (preferably fresh but if frozen, thawed)
handful of fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a saute’ pan and cook the onion until golden brown. Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, salt, cayenne, turmeric, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pods. Cook all the spices with the onions for about 5 minutes over a low flame. Add the meat, stirring occasionally until it starts to brown. Add the yogurt and cook for another 10 minutes.  Now add the tomatoes and peas. Cover the saute’ pan  and simmer for another 7-15 minutes. That is a large span, but the lower end is for chicken, higher end for lamb/beef. Serve garnished with coriander and with naan.

This is where the wine is made

I had the 2010 Les Grands Caves Saint Roch Vouvray with this meal. Such a perfect pairing! Vibrant stone fruits and amazing minerality keep this wine perfectly balanced. A touch of ripeness paired perfectly with the heat of the Kheema. As you may have noticed, I am a self proclaimed Chenin Blanc fanatic…. so this is a keeper for me – and such a steal at $16.50 a bottle when it’s available at 56 Degree Wine!