November 7, 2014

Spotlight: Tricia Brown, Korbel Winery Executive Chef

Tricia Brown’s love of cooking developed when she was a college student and began throwing dinner parties for friends. After moving to New York City to begin her career, she continued to find ways to entertain, despite the limits of a tight budget and small apartment.

Her job as an account director for an advertising software company required her to entertain clients, which also fostered her passion for food and wine. She eventually enrolled at New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute, which has a part-time program that allowed Brown to keep her day job. That meant a lot of 40-hour workweeks, followed by another 25 hours spent in classes. “There were some very long weeks, but I loved it,” she said.

Brown also received advanced certification at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and taught cooking classes and catered in New York before moving to what she calls “the mecca of wine and food” – Sonoma County, California. Shortly afterward, she learned about the position at the Korbel Winery. She has been executive chef at the winery for nearly two years. “It’s been the perfect marriage of all of my interests,” she said.

At Korbel, she puts her love of food and wine to excellent use while overseeing food-and-wine-pairing dinners and coordinating the food for winery events. She also prepares lunch for Korbel executives and arranges food deliveries with local fish, meat and vegetable purveyors. Flexibility is key: Many days she is in the kitchen at 6 a.m. to start preparing lunch, but if there is an evening or weekend event, she will adjust her schedule as needed.

Some of her favorite food and KORBEL pairings include KORBEL Russian River Valley Natural’ paired with oysters, KORBEL California Chardonnay with Dungeness crab and KORBEL Sonoma County Rouge with grilled lamb chops. Dark chocolate with 72 percent cacao paired with KORBEL California Sweet Rosé is another “mind-blowing” combination that Brown likes to serve. “It’s amazing how a good pairing can change people’s perceptions of the wine and the food,” she said.

For the home cook, Brown recommends keeping in mind that champagne tends to be a bit brighter and more acidic than still wine. Anything that pairs well with lemon – seafood, for example – is also a good match for champagne.

Another consideration is whether the weight of the champagne balances the weight of the food. For example, a rich champagne such as KORBEL California Chardonnay can cut through heavier foods, meaning it would pair well with a creamy recipe such as wild mushroom bisque, Brown said.

The sweetness level of the food should match with the sweetness level of the champagne as well. Brown said she often sees people pair a dry champagne with wedding cake, but KORBEL Sweet Rosé would be a better complement to the dessert. One exception is spicy foods, for which a sweet wine can provide a nice counterbalance to the heat.

When it comes to cooking at home, Brown enjoys creating in the kitchen on the weekends and when on vacation. But after long days of preparing meals at the Korbel Winery, it’s a different story. “After a day in the kitchen, I often want to go out to eat and let someone else do the dishes,” she said.