Mise en place.
French for “everything in place,” most chefs will readily admit that this is one of the most cherished secrets for success when working on a line.
Before you cook, get everything just right at your station.
Measure, peel, chop.
Going through all this preparation ahead of time, and focusing on the role and placement of each important ingredient and element of a dish, opens the door for more time focusing on the intricate details that it takes to master the nuances of a sear and a shake, a broil and a bake.
But what happens when you take the philosophy of “mise en place” and apply it not only to the actual execution of a dish or a dinner, but also to the method by which an entire menu is crafted?
A menu where every ingredient has a role. A menu where each course tells a story. A menu where each bite evokes a feeling.
What you get is The Williamsburg Winery Holiday 2019 dinners.
We sat down recently with The Williamsburg Winery’s Chef David McClure, who helped deconstruct this year’s holiday menus, available for Thanksgiving and Christmas at The Williamsburg Winery’s Café Provencal and the Gabriel Archer Tavern.
What comes together “en place” to create the magic may be more than you think. Read on.
Ingredients in Place
In real estate, they say, location is everything.
In food, ingredients are everything.
At The Williamsburg Winery, that’s where it all starts.
More specifically, it starts with locally sourced ingredients.
During the earliest planning stages of this year’s holiday menus, the first calls McClure made was to his trusted partners in Williamsburg and throughout the state to check on the quality and availability of local ingredients.
“We have a lot of good relationships – for example, the Edwards family in Surry, Manakintowne Growers, Llewdor Gardens, Agriberry, Joyce Farms and Border Springs Farm, which is producing some of the best lamb in the country,” said Simon Smith, Vice President of Food and Beverage for The Williamsburg Winery. “All of Wessex Farm is inspired by local cuisine, and I think that’s a great movement for the community.”
McClure then takes the ingredients he can source, thinks through traditional holiday dishes guests will expect (tradition is important), and works to reimagine them.
Take the main course on Café Provencal’s Thanksgiving Dinner menu.
One must have turkey as an option on Thanksgiving, after all.
But instead of a typical stuffed turkey, McClure will prepare a Roasted Turkey Wellington with Edwards Surry Sausage, oyster mushrooms, pickled cranberries, leek soubise and a roasted parsnip and potato puree.
“We take the turkey breast from a Virginia farm and roll it with duxelles, a chopped mixture of mushrooms, onions, herbs and sautéed butter, wrap it in a puff pastry and bake it,” McClure explained. “It’s kind of perfect for Thanksgiving, if you think about it. You have the buttery, flaky crust instead of stuffing, you have the mushrooms and duxelles, which is also kind of a stuffing.”
Instead of doing mashed potatoes, McClure will add parsnip to a potato puree to lighten it up and give it a nice, earthy flavor.
The Thanksgiving dinner will also feature a Virginia Peanut Crusted Local Rockfish – the turkey of the Chesapeake Bay, if you will.
On Café Provençal’s Christmas menu, as another example, McClure will start the menu with his take on Oysters Rockefeller thanks to oysters sourced from Big Island Aquaculture, located just a short drive from Wessex Hundred in Gloucester.
“For these Big Island Aquaculture Fried Oysters, I use a sourdough starter to dip the oysters in, so you get a sourdough breading, dandelion greens instead of spinach because they will be in season, and Surryano ham instead of bacon,” McClure said.
Feelings in Place
There’s a peculiar connection between taste and memory, smells and nostalgia, food and feelings.
We’ve all been there.
The first warm sip of warmed spiced wine. The sound of champagne glasses clinking. The smell of a kitchen on Christmas morning, after all the presents are open as mom prepares annual biscuits for breakfast. And let’s not forget the cookies on Christmas Eve baking for Santa.
Because the feelings of a holiday meal can be as important to have in place as the food itself, McClure “tries to think about what food gives you the feeling of Christmas,” he said.
Like fig pudding for dessert, as is featured on the Café Provençal Christmas menu. Or lamb shank, sourced from the famed Border Springs Farm here in Virginia.
Holiday meals can often be the only time of the year when families gather together.
Making it feel as lovely, and the experience as memorable, as the food tastes is an important ingredient.
Wine In Place
Last, but certainly not least, is the wine.
Having it in place during the holidays at The Williamsburg WINEry is pretty imperative, you could say.
Once Smith and McClure craft the holiday menus, Winemaker Matthew Meyer develops wine pairing recommendations best suited for each dish.
“He’s the one down in the cellar, creating the wine, bottling it, tasting it,” Smith said. “His palate is the perfect one to determine which wine goes best and then we share that with our staff.”
Reserve Your Place
Get more details about each holiday menu this season, and make your reservations for these limited seating events, at the links below.
Café Provençal Christmas Dinner Menu
Café Provençal Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
Gabriel Archer Tavern Thanksgiving Lunch Menu