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Preeti Mistry Wants to Show That Wine Pairing Isn’t Just for White Food

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Preeti Mistry in a chef's apron plates vegetables inside a restaurant kitchen.
Preeti Mistry says their new tasting menu at the J Winery's Bubble Room will feature dishes that are a bit more nuanced and elegant than the ones they served at Juhu Beach Club. J Winery chef Forest Kellogg is pictured in the background. (Courtesy of J Vineyards & Winery)

For as long as Preeti Mistry has been a professional cook, restaurant people have talked about the same handful of cuisines in the context of wine pairing: French. Italian. Maybe some take on California cuisine that’s also rooted in European fine dining traditions. 

Wouldn’t it be something, Mistry thought, if you could go out to a fancy wine dinner and the restaurant served you something more interesting—and less stereotypically Eurocentric—than a plate of braised short ribs over polenta?

That’s the idea behind the former Juhu Beach Club chef’s new collaboration with Healdsburg-based J Vineyards & Winery: “Shifting the Lens,” a chef’s residency program that aims to recenter the conversation around food and wine pairing, and fine dining in general, while giving the spotlight to chefs of color. The summer-long series features a different BIPOC woman as a guest chef each month, who will create a five- to seven-course tasting menu with wine pairings to serve at J Winery’s elegant “Bubble Room” dining room. 

Jenny Dorsey, a Chinese American fine dining chef who runs a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring social change in the food industry, kicked the series off in July

Now, Mistry themself is taking over for the month of August. Their residency will run Thursday through Sunday from Aug. 18–28, with seatings between 11am and 4pm each day, plus a special VIP dinner and Q&A session on Saturday, Aug. 20.

Three chefs huddle around a plate a food, adding sauces and garnishes.
Mistry (right) and Jenny Dorsey (center) are two of the chefs featured in the Shifting the Lens residency series. Here, they finish plating a dish along with J Winery chef Forest Kellogg. (Courtesy of J Vineyards & Winery)

The idea, Mistry says, is to counter the narrative that food and wine pairing is an art that only applies to white, European cuisines—and not to, say, Chinese food or Mexican food or soul food. For instance, for the longest time the conventional wisdom around Indian food has been that you shouldn’t even bother with wine. “Just drink beer or cocktails” is the advice you’ll typically get, Mistry explains. The other typical approach would be to pair Indian food with a very sweet, fruit-forward wine like a Syrah or a Gewurztraminer—“to throw sweetness at the spice,” as Mistry puts it. “‘Meh,’ I say. So basic.”

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Instead, Mistry prefers to serve acidic, structured red wines and floral white wines with Indian food—Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, for instance. “I don’t want the wine to envelop the food and mask the flavors,” Mistry says. “I want the wine to stand up to the food.”

The tasting menu format also gives Mistry the opportunity to present dishes that are more prettily plated and nuanced than what they used to serve at their more casual restaurants—food that’s a little bit “fancier.” Dishes might include khichdi, deep-fried Jimmy Nardello peppers with chickpea batter and a tomato rasam soup poured tableside. It’ll be a mostly vegetarian menu with one meat course, Mistry says.

Liquid is poured into a pani puri.
An elegant take on pani puri. (Courtesy of J Vineyard & Winery)

J Winery’s head winemaker, Nicole Hitchcock, has also created a special “Shifted Lens” brut rosé that’s available for purchase as part of the personalized gift boxes that each resident chef put together.

Mistry is known for being an outspoken critic of the ways the American restaurant industry has long been dominated—to its detriment—by white, male fine dining chefs. In fact, one of Mistry’s long-term goals is to create a farm-based restaurant with an extensive BIPOC-focused chef’s residency program similar to the one they’ve created in Healdsburg.

“The part that stuck with me was who gets these opportunities,” Mistry says. “The Bubble Room is a very beautiful room, very elegant. It might make some people nervous if they’re not used to these types of spaces.”

An elegant dining room with chandeliers and white tablecloths.
The wine pairing meals will take place in J Winery’s elegant Bubble Room. (Courtesy of J Vineyards & Winery)

But why shouldn’t chefs of color who aren’t cooking Eurocentric cuisines also have access to those kinds of spaces? For the residency program, Mistry actively sought out BIPOC women chefs who are doing meaningful social justice work beyond what they put on the plate. In addition to Dorsey, New York City-based chef Shenarri Freeman, who cooks vegan soul food, will close out this year’s inaugural series in September.

“In my early twenties, coming to Sonoma, I was enamored with both wine and fine dining. But there was a significant part of that world that didn’t love me back,” Mistry says. “This is an opportunity to actually do something about it and bring people in.”

Mistry believes the residency program is a chance to do things differently—and better—than much of the industry at large. The chefs who participate in the program are fairly compensated, Mistry says. And while the Bubble Room’s own kitchen is helmed by a white man, the whole kitchen team spends two weeks working shoulder to shoulder with each guest chef, learning not just how to execute the menu but also the cultural history of the dishes, and how to correctly pronounce “zongzi,” for instance. 

“We spend so much time complaining about cultural appropriation,” Mistry says. “But there is a way to appreciate other cultures and do it right.”

Preeti Mistry’s “Shifting the Lens” residency at J Winery (11447 Old Redwood Hwy, Healdsburg) will run from Aug. 18–28, with seatings for the $200 tasting menu Thursday through Sunday between 11am and 4pm. The VIP dinner ($250) is on Saturday, Aug. 20, 6–9pm. Make reservations in advance via Tock or the J Winery website.

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