Richard Geoffroy has been the chef de cave for the prestige French Champagne Dom Pérignon for more than two decades. But he's far from the sedate cellar master you'd expect, especially when it comes to matching the famous wine with food. Instead of waxing poetic over caviar or black truffles, his tastes run to black mole as well as Japanese kaiseki and Chinese regional cuisine.
Not one to stay hunkered down in the cellar in Epernay, Geoffroy logs thousands of miles each year traveling the world, hunting down chefs he can collaborate with in his investigations into pairing Dom Pérignon with food. His findings are often unconventional. But so is the man.
He's tailored his job to suit his predilections — and his position comes as something of a surprise, even to him. A Champagne native, Geoffroy studied medicine, got his degree and then realized he really wanted to make wine. So back to school, this time in enology. He began his career at Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley.
But then Dom Pérignon came knocking.
The Moët & Chandon-owned Champagne house ended up with someone who is not at all the typical chef de cave. While Geoffroy has a great respect for tradition, he tends to think outside the box — way outside the box. He's also not adverse to risk. That meant stubbornly waiting to pick the 2002 rosé, hoping the weather would hold. It did, and the result is a beautiful coppery rosé Champagne, big and embracing — and a natural with food.
Foie gras? Truffles? Nah. He's more excited about matching the rosé, which retails for about $300 a bottle, with mole negro. Hold on, the black stuff that flows like lava? Yes, that, discovered in the late '90s when he first started going to Oaxaca — for him, one of the great food places on Earth. And when he fell for one particular mole from a small village, he was so smitten he found a mezcal producer who agreed to export it to France for him. This one had a beautiful grassy quality he loved. "So dark and smoky and complex and profound," he says, "in my view, mole negro is soul food."
The typical chicken in mole negro doesn't interest him as much as mole with seafood, a pairing that's unconventional to Mexicans. He likes it with sweet prawns and shrimp, actually. And when he was in L.A. recently to present the 2002 rosé, he set up a dinner for Dom collectors at La Costa Mission in Malibu, pairing chef Geno Bahena's moles with Champagne. "Magic!" "Whoo! So good!"
In the '90s, Geoffroy spent a lot of time in Japan working with two master kaiseki chefs in Kyoto, fascinated by the array of colors, textures and flavors in the 15-or-more-course menus.
Lately, his obsession is China. He began in Hong Kong, where it's possible to find all of China's regional cuisines. Now he's graduated to Beijing, and from there he plans to explore the cooking of the rest of the country. "I'm always pushing, and you know Chinese cuisines are, wow, pretty spectacular," he says with an appreciative whistle.
What's his best match for Chinese cuisine? Either an older vintage of Dom Pérignon or the rosé.
"The beauty is that if you're drinking rosé, you can drink one single wine throughout the whole meal," he says.
He has a new vintage Dom coming soon, the 2004, and he's busy designing a whole meal around it. Though demanding, the project gives him the chance to know the wine even better as he zooms in on every aspect. It's not just about finding the perfect match. For Geoffroy, food is more than teasing the taste buds. "It's storytelling. Voilà! It has to be a journey."