Food Pairing Profile: Tami Wong (Volume XI)

“This one time, at Pinot camp…” 

When I arrived in San Diego in 2012, the lovely Tami Wong was one of the first wine folks that I had the fortune to connect with. I was immediately struck by Tami’s deep passion for wine – and her incredible palate – and since getting to know her better my respect and affection have only grown. Now she has control of her own wine list over at brand-new and highly anticipated Juniper & Ivy Restaurant, and it is undoubtedly among the most dynamic in town.

It’s been clear to me since Tami and I first tasted together than one of her favorite regions is The Loire Valley; in fact, I’ve come to see her smiling face in my mind’s eye any time I catch a whiff of Chenin. So when I was due to select a sommelier to come up with food pairing suggestions for this month’s Le Metro edition, The Lure of the Loire, it was a pretty easy call to make. All that remained to be seen was if Tami herself would be able to make the time to collaborate with me given her (very) full-time job.

In the end, Tami not only offered culinary recommendations for our current release, she also opened up some space for Le Metro at the hottest new restaurant in town. So keep your eyes on this blog! Tickets will go on sale next week for our upcoming Aboveground dinner at Juniper & Ivy on Thursday, April 24, and Tami’s food pairing recommendations will soon be online.

Personally, I can’t even wait that long – I’m taking my family to Juniper & Ivy for dinner tonight.

Aaron Epstein, Curator

AE: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you decided to dedicate your life to wine. (Come on, we’ve all got one…)

TW: One night early in my tenure at 3rd Corner, my GM Alex gave me a crate of white Burgundies and told me to check them out with a book, a tasting grid and a spit bucket. They blew my mind because a)this is chardonnay? Wow! And b)they were all from the same tiny little area of France and were all so different. I haven’t been interested in much else since.

AE: What food(s) did you find most comforting as a child?

TW: My mom’s lasagna and my Grandma Wong’s bao, which are the steamed Chinese dumplings that have the sweet red filling with barbecued pork and other goodness. Grandma Wong also made Chinese sausage and rice that we put soy sauce on and put down in quantity. 

AE: And what does “comfort food” mean to you today?

TW: I love any kind of pasta. When I really feel out of sorts, I need Chinese food. That always gets me back on track.

AE: Do you have a go-to “house wine” that you always have stocked at home?

TW: I always have different wines, but they are usually light bodied, high acid whites or rosés. They tend to be Old World.

AE: When you’re planning a meal, do you generally develop it around the food, or the wine?

TW: I get a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) from Be Wise Ranch, so I start with the vegetable in the fridge, then go to protein, then wine.

AE: Is there a dish that you’re famous for among your friends?

TW: I found this recipe for a Watermelon Gazpacho on Epicurious that was a Cat Cora. It’s so fresh and summery. I’ve taken it to multiple gatherings and it is always a hit.

AE: How do you decide where to eat when you’re traveling?

TW: My husband likes to research online, but when left to my own devices, I just go for a walk and let the place find me. When we went to Spain, our plane landed around 8am. We put our stuff in the hostel and went searching for breakfast. Mike asked me, “How will we know where to go?” I said “We will know.” Not ten minutes later, we came upon the Museo del Jamon. A museum of ham? Yes please!! It was magical.

AE: What is your favorite place to shop for food?

TW: I like funky little neighborhood markets. We live right by Gala and Food Bowl, which has a great butcher. I like to make the journey to North Park Produce, which is a jalal market and super cheap. Ranch 99 of course for Asian goods. Nothing sets off a string of “What is this?” from a toddler like a Chinese market! Half the time I don’t have the answer but that is the fun.

AE: Imagine yourself as a culinary ingredient or grape variety. What would you be, and why?

TW: I would be syrah because it works well in both warm and cool climates. Aussie shiraz was my gateway wine. It is friendly, dark, and sweet. When I discovered Northern Rhone syrah, my world changed. That wine has so many non-fruit characteristics with all the flowers and stones. Syrah is full bodied, has great depth of character and complexity and ages so gracefully!

AE: Would you consider your approach to food & wine pairing to be more scientific or intuitive?

TW: I think of my approach to pairing as academic. I read a lot about pairing and make decisions based on tradition. This one time, at Pinot Camp, I took the Zing! Pairing seminar and that is a more scientific approach. At the end of the day, I would have to say that I pair intuitively.

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