Star Chef Series: Chef Diplomacy with Jason Larkin
Welcome to the second installment of our Star Chef Blog Series. We’ve begun a regular blog series sharing Q&As with our most special friends who serve Iron Horse cuvees in their restaurants or in this case -- at State Department functions. We’ve interviewed Iron Horse's great friend, State Department Chef Jason Larkin, to get his take on food pairings which might accompany Iron Horse sparklings & wines in a large group setting.
Starting at Blair House (the official guesthouse of the President) under Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Jason was quickly identified as a rising star capable of running special functions at the State Department for the incoming Hillary Clinton. Hillary championed the concept of “soft power” where treaties were signed over the dinner table and food & wine credited as a diplomatic tool. Thus, Jason was tasked with growing the program that is powering delicious diplomatic affairs. He ended the practice of exporting tasks like selecting wine pairings by taking it on himself and in doing so he defined a fresh path forward for the State Department which relies on local ingredients and commitment to variety. He almost never repeats a dish.
When concepting a menu for specific meals with world leaders, he aims to highlight American flavors and brands which both showcase our uniqueness and an understanding of the visitor’s culinary transitions. Lucky for us, Jason is a valued Iron Horse fan who famously features Iron Horse wines at very high profile State Department and Presidential events.
When we called Jason up we challenged him to walk us through a large group friendly food pairing for a variety of our wines. Here’s what we learned….
Iron Horse Interview with Jason Larkin
Iron Horse: What attracts you to regularly leverage Iron Horse productions in your Diplomatic Reception Rooms?
Jason Larkin: I just love Iron Horse wine - period. Every wine I’ve ever had has been food friendly and goes well with a large variety of dishes. Any opportunity I have to serve them, I reach out.
Iron Horse: You’ve featured Iron Horse products at extremely newsworthy State Department events, tell us why.
Jason Larkin: I serve Iron Horse at the most high profile, Presidential functions because of their consistently high caliber. The bottles themselves have beautiful labels and there’s frequently an amazing tie-in with the guest or the event itself. When China’s then Vice President Xi visited in 2012, the Iron Horse Chinese Cuvee was the perfect pairing. The gold and red label invoked good fortune.
The next year, after Mr. Xi became President of China, we chose Iron Horse again for the working dinner hosted by President Obama at the Annenberg Estate in Southern California.
Iron Horse: How are you planning to leverage Iron Horse in the next few weeks?
Jason Larkin: We have a lot of environmental events coming up, including meetings with people who are invested in the care of the oceans. So I’m looking forward to serving the Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blanc at the Oceans Conference.
I was also very excited to offer Iron Horse Sparkling as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at this week's Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Event kick-off produced along with the James Beard Foundation. We’re launching the US Pavillion at the Milan Expo which is titled “American Food 2.0” and serves to highlight the best of American cuisine and creativity.
Iron Horse: Can you explain a bit about the The Diplomatic Culinary Partnership and the American Chef Corps groups which will be enjoying our wines and sparklings at the event?
Jason Larkin: The Diplomatic Culinary Partnership and the American Chef Corps are some of the most unique and delicious programs we have here at State. Participating chefs are respected as diplomats who foster a cross-cultural exchange by interacting with internationals.
As John Kerry said at the event, “There is absolutely something about good food that brings people together, and that’s what diplomacy is all about…[meals] are a critical part of our ability to be able to do business and talk and break bread and break down barriers and listen to each other and understand culture, history, and really dig underneath all the policy issues...literally some of the most candid and productive conversations that I have had have been over a good meal in somebody’s country.”
Iron Horse: Can you disclose the menu of what was served to accompany our Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut, Native Yeast Chardonnay and Deer Gate Pinot Noir?
Jason Larkin: Here are the food offerings from the vendors and chefs ---
Steak Tartare American
Raw Beef Sirloin, Parker House Roll
Created by José Andrés
Merguez Stuffed Lamb Rib
Saffron Braised Celery, Baby Artichokes and Grilled Yogurt
Created by Mike Isabella
Lobster Deviled Egg
Rainbow Hill Farm Organic Eggs topped with Ossetra Caviar
Created by Jamie Leeds
Puri-spiced Avocado filled in a whole meal puffed biscuit
Sweet Yogurt, Date Tamarind Chutney
Created by Vikram Sunderam
(CHEF’S NOTE: “I know the avocado dish is a wild one, I would probably enjoy it with a lager beer. But of course sparkling goes with just about everything!”)
Iron Horse: Finally, is that Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut in Secretary Kerry’s glass for his toast?
Jason Larkin: Yes, absolutely, what a great moment! He was giving remarks and wanted to do an impromptu toast to the chefs so one of his people ran to the bar (which I happened to be standing next to, of course) and grabbed one of the glasses that was pre-poured.