Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ozark Vacation: Hog Heaven with Bruce Cochran

You see my old friend Bruce Cochran and a capless me going hog wild in the Razorbacks Dining Area of my brother John's home. As you may have surmised from the decor, John is a Razorbacks fan . . . but then, so am I, and so is Bruce.

Anyway, Bruce and I are old friends from grade school, scions of long-time Arkansas Ozark hillbilly families from way back, several generations in fact. We've come a long way since drinking Boones Farm 'wine' on the sly alongside riverbanks in our 'dry' county of Fulton, but you see that we're still drinking out of coffee cups! No wine glasses in the Razorback Dining Area, unfortunately. That's karma, I reckon -- and rightly so, for we were drinking a dry California Karma chardonnay (2009, Monterey).

Bruce arrived in Salem after a three-hour drive from Little Rock, where he works as a wine distributor and spends a good deal of his time offering friendly advice on pairing wine and food, based on his thirty-five years' experience in both areas. He not only teaches courses on wine and writes a weekly newsletter on wines, he also serves as a judge of good barbecue and leads wine-and-food tours through Italy, Spain, Chile, and Argentina, among other countries.

Consequently, while I was looking forward to his arrival, I was also feeling a bit of trepidation since my lack of wheels had left me stuck with only four beers for him to choose from, no wine at all, and not much food in the house. Not that I expected a critique from my good friend, but since I've seen Bruce only once since high school, I wanted to offer more than conversation.

Well, Bruce himself came to the rescue, reaching my brother's place by 2:00 p.m., wine in hand -- a pinot noir and the above-mentioned chardonnay. Meanwhile, my brilliant wife, Sun-Ae, recalled the five big catfish that En-Uk had caught at Uncle Woodrow's farm only the day before, and thus still relatively fresh. Bruce advised on the cooking, cautioning against baking this particular fish, so my wife 'dusted' the catfish in flour for frying and served it alongside local squash and non-local rice with shrimp for dinner -- though only after Bruce and I had enjoyed a four-hour talk over beer and pinot noir about our world travels since leaving the Ozarks.

I also learned new things about identifying various cuts of beef, establishing solid connections with wine experts in traditionalist Italy, coming to terms with why local Ozark culinary 'art' still overcooks steak, understanding how Argentines can grill beef dry, yet tasty, and recognizing the differences between the Russian and Ukrainian languages while traversing wine regions in those Slavic lands! My old friend Bruce has developed an amazing range of interests. And he actually has a career . . .

We went on to discuss European immigration policies, the rise of Islam in Europe and its implications for his wine and food interests, the micro-nationalisms of small differences on the European continent, and various other things that we'd noticed from our several times in Europe. Hard to believe that we were once so sheltered here in the Ozarks from all that . . . though I suppose "isolated" is the more precise term.

Sun-Ae joined us in dinnertime conversation, and I was not only relieved but even gratified to hear Bruce sincerely praise the pan-fried catfish as probably the best that he'd ever tasted. I chimed in to brag on my wife's cooking and told Bruce that he should bring along Liz and visit the northeast Asian peninsula sometime so that we could treat them both to some delicious Korean cooking. He was all for that, of course.

I suggested that we figure out a way to have Bruce come to Seoul as a wine-and-food expert to justify the visit as a business trip and perhaps even get it paid for. I think that he'd be good at figuring out how to pair Western wines with Korean foods -- certainly with the grilled meats that Koreans love so much, given his expertise judging barbecue competitions alongside his professional knowledge about wines.

Bruce and Joe McPherson at ZenKimchee should probably establish contact -- and for anyone else who might want to know more about Bruce Cochran in his capacity as a wine-and-food expert, check out his website.

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At 2:47 AM, Anonymous Erdal said...

"how Argentines can grill beef dry, yet tasty"

Good topic. Do you remember what he said they do?

At 7:13 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't recall that he specified, but I can ask him to clarify the point if he has time.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Erdal, I asked Bruce and got this response:

"That's a good question, Jeff. I haven't seen them marinate anything, and nothing seems special about the fire. Sometimes they have a grill that can be raised or lowered. Also, many times I've seen them raking fresh coals around under the meat. It just seems more art than science."

I don't reckon that this helps much, but it tells us something. Maybe the Argentine grass-fed cattle simply offer better flavor.

Jeffery Hodges

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