Thursday, October 19, 2023

Master Sommelier curated winelist at Auburn U Culinary School Restaurant

Master Sommelier Thomas Price curated winelist at Auburn U Culinary School Restaurant

Enroute to a getaway at The Cove, Destin, Florida vacation rental home, we stopped in Auburn, AL to visit an investment property on the campus of Auburn University where we dined at the 1856 Residence Culinary School fine dining restaurant.

The Wine Spectator recognized 1856–Culinary Residence restaurant, named after the year of the university’s founding, is an upscale teaching restaurant sited on College Avenue directly across from campus in the new Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, home of the Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management.

The restaurant, opened in the summer of 2022, is the flagship of the four story Rane Culinary Science Center at the university and integrates classrooms and laboratories with a restaurant, a coffee roaster and café, a boutique hotel, bars, the rooftop garden, and other real-world hospitality services.

The Culinary experience is part of the Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management.program which includes three pillars - Hospitality Management, Event Management and Culinary Studies. The working restaurant operations offers students immersive hands-on training in all aspects of the front and back of the house. 

1856 – Culinary Residence offers patrons a unique dining experience with stylish modern architecture, the dining room adjacent the open kitchen and bar, and also includes a view into the wine cellar with its two story wine wall, and a private dining room between the working kitchen and cellar. 

The 1856 restaurant operates a la carte lunch and a seven-course tasting menu at dinner.

Academy students staff the restaurant under the guidance of one or more Chefs in Residence, a position that rotates each year. Each year, an acclaimed chef works alongside the Ithaka Hospitality Partners team as well as Auburn University faculty and staff to create a unique restaurant concept, providing a one-of-a-kind, ever-changing culinary experience for students and restaurant guests alike. 

They boast the country’s first tasting-menu-only teaching restaurant that offers a unique and elevated experience where education meets experiential dining. The multi-course meal at the 1856 restaurant delivers a gourmet pleasure for diners while providing educational lessons for the Auburn University students who prepare and serve the food getting hands-on experience, learning the myriad details of running a restaurant. A chef in residence, which changes annually, oversees how fine dining and the classroom intersect at the restaurant.

The presiding Chef in Residence is Ford Fry who founded Rocket Farm Restaurants in 2007 and currently oversees a portfolio of 23 restaurants in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, Houston, and Cary, NC. Rocket Farm Restaurants includes some of the South’s most popular concept establishments including Beetlecat, St. Cecilia, The Optimist, Superica, La Lucha and State of Grace. While the concepts each have their own identity, they share a commitment to their respective communities and to serving exceptional food made with local ingredients and attention to detail.  

One of the highlights of dining at 1856 – Culinary Residence or participating in institutional programs is The Master Sommelier in Residence who designs and curates the wine program. The presiding wine director and instructor is Master Sommelier Thomas Price’s who has crafted a 650-label, Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence–winning program featuring wines primarily from France, Spain, Italy, California and Oregon. 

The current Master Sommelier, Thomas Price, spent the last 35 years working in some of Seattle’s most prominent restaurants, including his own. Shortly after obtaining his Master Sommelier certificate in 2012, Price joined Jackson Family Fine Wines as National Director of Wine Education, in addition to working with Auburn University’s Hospitality Management program as a visiting sommelier over the last eight years. 

During our visit, we had the pleasure of meeting Thomas who was gracious and hospitable, generous with his time to discuss the program, the wine selections from the Wine Spectator award winning winelist, their regions and producers, and several topics of oenology and mutual, shared interests and experiences.

Throughout the meal and our visit, we were hosted and served by a student as well as a full time professional server who also mentors, coaches and supervises students in all aspects of the front of the house operations. 

For our dining pleasure we ordered from the 1856 menu the wedge salad, starters and then entrees, with an accompanying wine selection. 

For our starters I had the Chicken Liver Mousse pate' with stone fruit on Brioche Toast, and Linda had the Marcel Bread with Garlic Herb Buer, Whipped Ricotta, Olives, Prosciuto and EVOO.

For her entree, Linda the Gnudi pasta with Pesto, Pine Nuts, Parmesan, Roop Basil and Evoo.

 Master Chef Ford Fry calls the Gnudi “a big umami flavor bomb.” It is house-made ricotta cheese seasoned and rolled into balls that are dipped in egg and buried in flour. That forms a shell when the gnudi is boiled. The cheese oozes out when the orbs are sliced. The sauce – sometimes brown butter, and other times a vinaigrette – features truffles.

For my entree, I ordered the Flounder Fish N' Chips - Crispy NC Flounder, Malt Vinegar Aioli, Garlic Oil and rice-Cooked Fries andwith pomme frits.

For our wine selection we drank the Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay from Domaine Serene. 

Domaine Serenc Evenstad Reserve Dundee Hills Chardonnay 2018

This is a producer we know well, one of our favorites and one of the few we collect of Oregon wines and Pinot Noir. We hold this same Evenstad Reserve branded label Pinot Noir going back a dozen vintages. We've seen but never tasted their Chardonnay and were eager to do so, especially in this idyllic setting. Having tried it and enjoyed it immensely, we'll be sure to pick some up as soon as we return home.

In discussions with wine director Master Sommelier Thomas Price about this selection he raved about Oregon Chardonnays and the collaborative partnership the Auburn school enjoys with this producer.

The ‘Evenstad Reserve’ Chardonnay showcases the art of blending select barrels from estate vineyard sites in the Oregon Willamette Valley Dundee Hills AVA. Three of the seven Domain Serene Dundee Hills vineyards comprising a total of 150 acres of vines are planted to Chardonnay, in addition to Pinot Noir, which produce highest quality fruit from the combination of Dijon clone vines, Jory soil and the high elevation of the Dundee Hills estates.

Winemaker notes - "The 2018 vintage of this acclaimed wine incorporates the best select fruit of each vineyard into the compelling blend. An enticing tropical medley of kiwi and yellow peach act as the melody, with high notes of white flower and fresh linen. The oak treatment is flawlessly integrated, with a lingering minerality and salinity completing the symphony. This wine will certainly deserve a place in the cellar of the discerning collector of fine Chardonnays."

This vintage release was awarded 96 points by James Suckling, 95 Points "Editor's Choice" by Wine Enthusiast and 93 points by Wine Advocate. It was Ranked #87 in Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Cellar Selections of 2020.

Golden straw colored, medium to full-bodied with creamy texture, complex concentrated pear, white peach and yellow apple fruits with notes of honeydew and wet stone and hints of citrus, hazelnut and bit of butterscotch on a crisp acidic lingering finish. Delicious.

RM 94 points.