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An Interview with David Rosengarten
by Phillip Silverstone

"There is a communication of more than bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk" noted the late M.F.K. Fisher, one of the greatest food writers of this century. Ms. Fisher would have been in her element during the wildly successful Book and Cook dinner earlier this year, which was hosted by yours truly and David Rosengarten, darling of the TV Food Network's culinary groupies. David selected the menu from his Dean and DeLuca cookbook while I matched the appropriate wines to each course. The selections included both fish and meat - so with my nectar added to the equation, I fondly referred to the marriage as surf and turf and slurp.

I was reminded of this occasion as I began leafing through my diary reviewing accomplishments this past year, a year spent busily tasting and spitting through modestly priced, exceptional wines for various reasons, mostly professional, and rarely recreational. The Rosengarten "gig" was enormously stressful. Marrying wine to food is essentially a "no brainer" as far as I'm concerned, but faced with the daunting prospect of Rosengarten's obsessive need for what he perceives as perfection in wine and food marriages, and my sudden jitters in anticipation of a crammed room of Rosengarten idol worshippers, I was quite happy when the "Big Night" came, went, and was hailed as an enormous success. Believe me, this wine and food caper often leaves much to be desired, and it most certainly ain't as easy as it appears.

When it comes to selecting wines for these type of events, or for hotel wine lists, or for monthly selections at the PLCB Specialty stores, it would be very easy for me to pick wines which offer that big gulp satisfaction in the first glass followed by serious disappointment in successive glasses. Some wines have that weakness of character, similar to a person you find that you dislike after only five minutes in conversation. Well, I select my wines the same way I pick my friends. I want the relationship to develop into a warmer, richer, and more honest state, eagerly anticipating our next encounter.

Wine to me is a mistress, a seducer of hearts, a gorgeously sensual experience which provokes all manner of dreams through its tantalizing perfume and provocative flavors. Wine is the world's truly democratic beverage. It sweeps across ethnic and cultural borders, and is the true language of love, of celebration, and of life.

The wine and food world is my ideal Utopia. Restaurants are embraced by foods which have no borders, limits and boundaries. Chefs are talented artists - our plate is their canvas, and each day masterpiece after masterpiece is created in their kitchen - each one a limited edition signed by a great master in the white hat.

So as I fill the last pages of my diary, I begin to wonder what great moments in the culinary and oenological world await inclusion in my 1998 edition. For certain I will note some moments of pure magic but magic can only be created when bread is broken and wine is drunk…and that's what I did with my old chum, David Rosengarten.

P.S.: The French summoned you to Paris to help select the world's greatest sommelier; you swam off to Asia to lecture on culinary topics; and you hold a doctorate in dramatic literature from Cornell which led you to becoming assistant professor of theater…I absolutely hate you! But besides my jealousy, do you ever wake up and wish you'd have been a nuclear physicist, or a brain surgeon, or an accountant?

D.R.: I've done all those things Phil….no, I haven't actually! Now Phil, you fly all over the world, and you are an accomplished young man yourself, so you don't need to be jealous of me. I'm happy. I think I was destined to do what I do. I had a mother with an incredible sense of taste and smell, like a bloodhound …unbelievable! I think I got something of my palate from her. I had a father who was crazier about food than any person I've ever met in my life, including me. And with that combination I think fate was clear.

P.S.: M.F.K. Fischer was asked why she wrote about food, and eating and drinking, rather than politics and more important issues, to which she responded: "there is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk." Can you identify with that famous quote?

D.R.: Oh absolutely! I mean it's one of the reasons that I feel so much energy about the subject. People sometimes say, "you have so much energy, enthusiasm and drive in this subject, why is that?" And it's not simply because the stuff that I'm writing about tastes good. I mean, that could be enough, but it's simply not that. It's that when people slow down and stop to enjoy what they're eating, and enjoy what they're drinking, and enjoy each other over a table, it's a kind of thing that gives some additional meaning to life. It's a central, social function, and I think that those societies that do that function better are generally healthier and happier societies.

P.S.: You seem to me to be a human sponge. I think Bounty would be impressed by the way you soak up information. Do you have a photographic memory or is it the passion in the subject matter that enables you to retain this knowledge?

D.R.: No, I have a teleprompter…I'm just kidding…it's a little secret of the trade. And when you said I seem to be a "human sponge" I thought perhaps you meant my wine consumption, but I'm glad to see it was something else. I guess I trained my mind to retain, because as you said before, I was involved in the groves of academia…and when you're a graduate student in a subject like …part of my field was history - theater history, and having to sit there and memorize the height of the railing at the Second Globe Theater in 1614, and the name of the ticket taker at Lincoln's Inn Fields in the 18th century, I mean absurd detail that I had to absorb and retain in that pursuit. And I just sort of transferred it over to learning every premier cru vineyard in Burgundy, and learning every olive variety that exists in the world. I don't know…what do other people do with their time?

P.S.: Back in 1990 you confessed to being an Acid freak, and I know you haven't kicked the addiction. I should explain before the rumors start flying that we are not talking about drugs here. Here's your quote: "I am a freak about wines that contain a bright, sprightly, enlivening dose of acidity." Does this mean you share my passion for the splendid nectar from the banks of the Mosel and the Rhine?

D.R.: Ahh, do I ever! What a loaded question that is. There are a few of us in this country, and I guess we can number ourselves among them who have been passionate about German wine for years and years. I think it is one of the great tragedies of wine consumption in the U.S. that German wine is not more popular. I think Americans would absolutely love German wine if they had the opportunity to taste it and understand it. German wine is terribly misunderstood. People all the time think that German wine is sweet, but as you know there are many dry wines, and two-thirds of the wines produced in Germany are dry. They also think that German wine labels are terribly complicated …and THAT they are right about! They are daunting, so that's created some trouble. I have said it before Phillip, and I'll say it again, I think, by and large, the most food friendly white wine in the world is dry German white wine.

P.S.: It's frightening how many things we agree about. Glad we didn't date the same women in our youth! Which wine region, at the moment, is exciting you?

D.R.: You know Phillip, I have to give you an answer that probably will disappoint you since you are always on the prowl for the new; the exciting; the trendy.

P.S.: Not necessarily (getting defensive).

D.R.: I think that you probably wouldn't disagree with me, and the answer would be red Burgundy. I mean, try as they might in South Africa, or in New Zealand, in Australia or California to make exciting wine…and exciting wine is being made all over the planet…nothing is ever more exciting that sticking your nose in a glass of Burgundy that has been perfectly aged and has that furry, animal, earthy, exotic, unmentionable stuff going on.

I must say, the thought of Rosengarten's nose that deep into my glass does put me off a bit. Hope you enjoyed reading this month's column as much as I enjoyed writing it. I think I'll attempt a coffee feature next month - a sort of Bowerman-Davis' column - only with humor!

Phillip Silverstone Phillip Silverstone writes and hosts syndicated radio and TV wine features. His book, "Cheers! The World of a Wine-osaur" (Camino Books, $12) is available in bookstores everywhere.

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