Sunday Challenge - Part 8
November 7, 2010

Miles from SidewaysLast weekend was filled with lots of artistic events. A Jazz club on Friday, the Mid City Artists open house on Saturday, and the Photo Week exhibits at the Corcoran museum and the National Geographic. So after these events, I was in the mood for some artistic challenges myself. And that means Sunday Challenge! So while we are having lunch on a nice fall day after the exhibit at Nat Geo, my husband was brainstorming for an idea for the challenge. Suddenly he smiled from across the table and said he had sent the subject of the challenge to me on my phone. I logged in to find a my assignment: to cook a meal based on the character, Miles, from one of our favorite movies: Sideways.

Unlike the Top Chef, I usually spend a lot of time figuring out what to make in answer to a Sunday challenge. For me, that is the artistic and fun part: the process of coming up with the ideas and developing the exact recipes. But this time, I had to think pretty quickly so that we could do some shopping on the walk home from lunch downtown. Meanwhile, my husband also participated in the challenge this time. His mission was to pick the perfect bottle of wine for this meal. So we changed our location to the Hello Cupcake to research and finalize our plan and then headed to shopping.

By the time we got back from the grocery store, it was already 4:30 and I had tons of things to do. I had roughly 2-1/2 hours but I managed to finish on time.

The challenge: Food inspired by the movie character, Miles from Sideways

What I Made : A five course meal inspired by the 5 most important scenes (that I remembered).

Scene 1: Chicken noodle soup
During the first act of the movie, Miles is in a depressed funk thanks to his divorce, stalled book deal, and numerous other frustrations.

Obviously, Miles needs some comfort food to cheer him up. So I decided to make the ultimate comfort food, chicken noodle soup, but in my own way. I wrapped coarsely grounded chicken thigh, garlic, basil, salt and pepper inside a homemade pasta square and boiled them in hot water. Separately, I made a delicate chicken stock with lots of vegetable scraps and chicken bones. I added some diced (very tiny) carrots, potatoes and onions into the finished stock until everything was soft. I plated the chicken pasta purse on the soup plate and ladle some soup on top, and finished with a dill garnish.

Scene 2: Marche and pomegranate salad
Miles begins to emerge from his stupor during his first wonderful evening with Maya talking about their love of wines.

I wanted a herb and edible flower salad to represent the spring and Miles' bright future ahead. But I could not find edible flowers this time of year. So I had to make a simple salad but added some pomegranate seeds for color.

Scene 3: Merlot Sorbet
Depression returns for miles in a big way when he finds out his book deal fell through. He tries to get drunk and eventually ends up pouring the whole waste bucket of wine down his throat.

I wanted to make something light and refreshing with Merlot, the wine that Miles hates. My husband and I totally agreed that this sorbet is more suitable for the scene when Miles said "No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!" In retrospect, I would have served this earlier in the movie to coincide from that scene.

Scene 4: Homemade "White Castle burgers" and fries
Miles creates his own scene of sublime, solitary contentment when he goes to the fast food restaurant and enjoys his cherished bottle of '61 Cheval Blanc (in a paper cup) with a burger.

I knew my husband was getting a good bottle for this meal. And to match what Miles eats at this scene, I knew I had to make burgers. I wanted to make a really good quality burger with premium meat but make them look like a little White Castle burgers. After I saw this scene while we were eating, I noticed that Miles was eating a burger with onion rings but not fries! I wish I knew. But anyway, I made the replica of fries I recently ate that the Blue Duck Tavern.

Scene 5: Pinot Noir parched pears :
Because it's Hollywood, Miles needs a scene of redemption at the end and that comes from the voicemail he receives from Maya - the scene for our dessert.

I wanted to end with a dessert made with Pinot Noir (both Maya and Miles' favorite wine). So I poached these pears for hours in Pinot and topped with a cream that I made with pistachio cream I got from Milan and some cream cheese.

Choice of wine : 2005 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Chateau Leydet-Valentin. My husband selected the wine and it turned out to match perfectly with my plan. Although it would have made sense to pick a California wine, Miles' prized wine that he saved throughout the movie for the important scene in the burger joint is actually from France: a 1961 Cheval Blanc Saint-Emilion Grand Cru - ironically a blend of Merlot (yes, Merlot!) and cabernet franc. Even if we could find a 1961 Cheval Blanc, it would have cost hundreds of dollars. Instead, we found that Chateau Leydet-Valentin was a neighbor of the Cheval Blanc vineyard, so we were hoping it would give us a taste of what Miles appreciated so much. Of course, ours was very young, so we had to let the wine breath for quite a while, but it really opened up well. We opted for a wine glass instead of a paper cup. Sorry Miles.

Judge's verdict: This was by far the funnest Sunday Challenge we have had thus far. Everything - the movie that inspired the meal, the selection of the scenes, the recipes, the ingredients, the cooking, the wine... even the time we had together on a beautiful Sunday afternoon discussing the movie and food and walking around our fabulous city for several hours in search of the ideal wine and produce - everything about this challenge from beginning to end made this a memorable meal and a memorable day. The selection of dishes was inspired. In particular I thought the comfort food for the first part of the movie was very appropriate - and a nice warm, but light, dish to kick off a two-hour meal. I also loved the two dishes that highlighted the wines - the merlot sorbet and especially the poached pears. The sauce tasted like syrup but with the complexity of a tasty Pinot. Of course, what's not to like about the burgers?! They melted in my mouth, just like White Castle. Another hit. Even Miles might have managed a compliment.


part 10 : Full Course Meal with Finger Food

part 9 : Funny Fusion

part 8 : Inspired by movie character

part 7 : Lamb and pea puree

part 6 : skirt steak

part 5 : grilled cheese sandwitch

part 4 : Thai green curry

part 3 : nem

part 2 : pork 4 ways

part 1 : cinnamon pork and brie