Behind-the-Scenes Dish with Top Chef's Ted Allen

iVillage: What's your philosophy on pairing food and wine?

Ted Allen: The overarching message I try to send is that it isn't as hard as you think. There are ways to begin approaching it, and as soon as you dip your foot into it a little bit, I really do think light bulbs go off for most of us. The way our [Robert Mondavi wine-and-food pairing] seminar begins is with a piece of completely plain chicken breast and Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. And I ask people to take a bite of the chicken breast and then taste each of the wines. Plain chicken breast works better with Chardonnay than it does with Sauvignon Blanc, because the chicken breast is such a blank canvas and it's got a teeny bit of fat in it. It kind of allows the buttery, toasty notes of the Chard stand out.

Step two, you take a piece of lemon and squeeze that onto the chicken. You take a bite again, and you taste the two wines, and of course, the Sauvignon Blanc is better. The Chardonnay becomes kind of bland and overly sweet-tasting compared to the acidic chicken. But the Sauvignon Blanc has lemon flavors in it, it's much more of a tart wine, it has other citrus, grapefruit, green apple... And I ask people to raise their hands, "Who likes the Chardonnay? Who likes the Sauvignon Blanc?" It usually comes out about 90 percent preferring the correct wine. And suddenly people have an understanding of why. And that's really fun.

We do this with four wines and about eight different foods... this information is printed up in a little packet, and if you can leave just with that information, imagine how much you can do with that when you're going home and cooking dinner. I think that's really exciting. You're hopefully ushering somebody on to their own little wine journey. And the next time they make shrimp scampi... they're going to have a much more informed decision. And food is going to be a cooler experience for them, and I find that just incredibly cool.

MAIN: Ted Allen dishes on Top Chef and entertaining

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