Alexandria and Chris Franz of St. Clair Shores-based Wooden Whisk Creations enjoy pairing the foods they make with wines. Besides doing special events for Michigan By The Bottle tasting rooms, the pair travels north each year to present winery-related food events. Chris was executive chef at The Rattlesnake Club in Detroit for more than 15 years and has run kitchens at country clubs and a brewery; Alexandria grew up cooking and has worked in restaurants all of her life, though she is a catering and event planner/restaurant marketing director by trade — and an avid home cook.
This summer, they are preparing meals for a summer dinner series at Verterra Winery’s The Ridge location, with dates including July 24 and Sept. 5. They’re also planning a pop-up featuring small plates at Rove Estate July 19, and they’re doing a Foodie Friday July 17 at Blustone Vineyards — all in Leelanau County near Traverse City. Here, they discuss their craft, food and — what else? — wine.
Tell us about the dinners at Verterra.
Alexandria: They’re six-course dinners. Paul Hamelin (Verterra owner) sends out the list of wines he wants to feature at each dinner, and we pair the food with them. They’re basically small plates dinners. It’s plenty of food, but not giant portions.
What about The Ridge venue?
Alexandria: The setting is kind of between Leland and Northport, up on a ridge where you can see both the bay and the lake from the area. It’s surrounded by vineyards — it’s literally breathtaking. Every time we’re there, we tell Paul, “If you see a tent popped in the corner, don’t worry — that’s just because we don’t want to go home.”
But it’s a huge tent with clear sides. If it gets windy, we can put the sides down but can still see the view. There are lots of places to wander around, take pictures, enjoy the evening and socially distance from everyone. The tent is large, so he’ll definitely be able to seat plenty of people and keep everybody respectfully spaced per regulations.
Please give us an example of a pairing.
Alexandria: For the first dinner July 11, (he served) the Pinot Noir Rosé, the 2019. Then (we) paired it with a pistachio-crusted lamb bite skewer on grilled pita.
What do you look for when pairing food and wine?
Alexandria: For us, it’s a lot of balance and then complementing, so it’s flavors that both sort of go with or sort of match the flavors in the wine and flavors that kind of contrast and highlight those things. If the wine is acidic, then maybe we look for something with a little more fat in it to balance the acid. If a food is heavy, we might — especially doing a dinner in northern Michigan — reach for cherries to complement that.
We try not to make it too technical. We say drink what you like. The easiest way for us to describe it is high acid goes with higher fat, so if you’re eating grilled salmon with a lot of fat, go for one of the 2019 rosés coming out of Michigan right now. They’re all incredible. If you’re eating something spicy — Chinese, Thai, even Mexican — try one of Michigan’s million delicious semidry Rieslings. You’re never going to go wrong with a red meat and Merlot and Cab Franc. Peninsula Cellars has a Merlot right now that is outstanding.
What are your personal favorite wines?
Chris: I usually like dark reds. I stick with Pinot Noir or Cab Franc — that’s pretty much my go-tos.
Alexandria: I’m a rosé girl. Verterra’s three varietal rosés they did this year were all outstanding, and I’m absolutely hoarding bottles of them all in my wine fridge. We both like Chateau Aeronautique’s Crimson.