Chef Ivana Raca pairs wine with veggies
Vegetables have always been a familiar inclusion on restaurant menus. Only in the last couple of years have plant-based dishes started taking centre stage. Truly skilled chefs, like Yugoslavia-born Chef Ivana Raca, are honing their veggie prep skills to create dishes that not only taste good, but pair well with wines.
Raca came to Canada in 1994 during the Bosnian War. “The war shaped who I am — it gave me strength, confidence and a survivor’s instinct,” Raca explains. “After going through that, I can survive anything. It gave me the will to persevere as a woman in a male-dominated field. It helped instil a drive to succeed, to take chances and to push myself in the kitchen and as a businesswoman.”
And succeed she has. A recent contestant on Top Chef Canada, Raca was the first female saucier for Mark McEwan. A mere four years after she broke through that glass ceiling, she shattered another to become the first female Executive Chef for the food emporium McEwan Foods. “I didn’t set out to break barriers for female chefs, I just battled through every day, kept my head down and worked hard,” says Raca.
During her time working in the industry, she has noticed one important detail — the future is plant-based. “I don’t feel that plant-based foods are a trend,” says Raca. “I truly believe this is the way that the majority of people will be eating in the future. The culinary world is pointing towards more vegetarian dishes.”
Unfortunately, there is still a lack of wine-and-veggie pairing knowledge, a fact that Raca wishes to correct. “Providing guidelines on how to pair wine and plant-based foods will give people the right information to choose wines that complement their dishes so that they have a great dining experience,” Raca says. She credits her boyfriend’s vegan diet as part of her inspiration for exploring vegetable-forward dishes. Finding ways to pair her own dinner, and that of her boyfriend’s, with their favourite wines takes creativity and a good understanding of how flavours work together.
“The key to a great pairing is aligning the intensity of the wines with the flavours of your food,” explains Raca. “When I craft my recipes, it’s a lot of trial and error — the smallest ingredient or idea can get my creativity flowing. Recipe development takes a lot of attention to detail and a love of experimenting.”
She applied her attention to detail and love of experimentation to a recent collaboration with farmer and winemaker, Tom Gore. Raca created two vegetable-forward recipes to pair with Gore’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc wines.
“[Gore] has a deep understanding of the intimate connection between food and wine,” Raca says of the collaboration. “Both he and I are curious about the idea of terroir, and how different produce and wines can vary in taste, texture and flavour depending on where they come from.”
During the collaboration, Raca developed some guidelines on how to pair wine and plant-based dishes:
“I love to bring greens together with white wine. A fresh and zesty white will perfectly complement summer vegetables like fresh lettuce, peas and artichokes or herb-forward dishes featuring fresh chives or basil. These light vegetables pair beautifully with the bright citrus, lime, and tangerine aromas of a Tom Gore Sauvignon Blanc.
“Just as in meat-based dishes, richer flavours — think roasted beets or sautéed mushrooms — will pair beautifully with the tannins of a bold red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon works especially well with root vegetables, or anything that’s been roasted or charred. The blackberry and blackcurrant notes in the Tom Gore Cabernet Sauvignon will come to life on the palate when enjoyed alongside the earthy flavours of so many plant-based dishes.”