In Vino Päritas: Inspired By Food And Wine With Sigrid Bárány

“I have always loved food and drink, as a source of pleasure but also as a way of understanding and experiencing different places, cultures and contexts”. Cooking had been Sigrid Bárány’s hobby for a long time, but she never thought of it as a career choice until 2010. Instead she worked as a freelance translator, studying languages, both living and dead. Before that, she worked for a software company in Dublin for a while and in her 20s she went to vocational school to be a musical artist. ”It has been the long and winding road for me, career-wise. The interesting thing is that now that I have found my calling, I feel I can use everything I ever studied or worked with. It all just clicked into place.” This smiley, stylish, and now familiar face from Swedish Masterchef 2012 is not just a prize-winning foodie, she’s also an avid wine connoisseur with a sharp palate and nose. As she was sniffing, tasting, crying and smiling her way through Firesteed Cellars Citation pinot noir series at the latest Go West tasting, I caught her attention and we started to chat away. Her passionate relationship with wine is quite unique outside the industry, but I guess it’s only a matter of time before she’s a big part of it.

You have a lot on your plate, but you call yourself a “Food Inspirer”. What exactly does that mean and what does a normal week in your life look like?

It means I can do whatever I like and claim that it fits my job description! No, but seriously, I don’t work in a restaurant and I don’t just create recipes so “Inspirer” seemed to fit the bill. I give lectures, write about food and meal culture, record the podcast Matsamtalet together with Johan “Matgeek” Hedberg, do cook-a-longs and events and a bit of catering, as well as creating recipes and whatever else feels interesting at the time. This week I have been launching recipe competitions in schools for four days in a row. Other weeks I travel somewhere to give a lecture or experiment with recipes for some new product. All good fun. Winning Swedish Masterchef has been a real blessing that way.

Speaking of which, ever since you won the Swedish Masterchef 2012, I’ve been wanting to know what sort of wine you would serve with your famous Pavlova dessert?

Sweet, sparkling wine with high acidity, like Nivole (nr 7787, 79 kr), goes well with my original version with lime and passion fruit curd, but since a pavlova can have any number of fillings, you could adapt it to a number of sweet wines or sweet cocktails. You could make a tart plum and cherry filling and serve it with Umeshu (Takasago, nr 121, 92 kr) for example.

After the successful books Spisvärme and Sigrids Kök, will we get to see another cookbook in the near future and will it be something with more focus on wine perhaps?

I hope so! The one I have in mind right now is about vegetarian comfort food but a while ago an acquaintance who is a sommelier asked me if I wanted to collaborate on a book about pairing champagne with food, and I hope to revive that idea. I love champagne, and I love finding perfect matches. I want to focus more on wine and go to more tastings to develop my palate and pairing skills but there are always so many things I want to do with my time…

You have a Nobel laureate in your family tree, do you think there should be a Nobel prize for cooking?

I suppose you could view cooking as something that confers “the greatest benefits to mankind” if you paint it with the same brush as the literature prize, but that seems kind of strained. While literature can inspire anyone who can get their hands on a book, cooking only really reaches those who are privileged enough to taste the food. Unless it was a recipe prize, of course… Nah, I’ll go with a no. There are already a number of prestigious cooking competitions in the world.

When will we get to see you in charge of the official Nobel ceremony dinner? What, if so, would make the menu and what wines would you choose to serve?

Ha ha, the day pigs sprout wings and take to the sky. And then I’ll slow roast them and serve them with a spicy pinot noir like Irony or Buena Vista since it goes well with both pork and fowl.

When you’re decoding myths and talking food trends as well as basic cooking and produce in your podcast Matsamtalet with Johan ”Matgeek” Hedberg, you have touched on wine in a few episodes (especially episode 8 with Alf Tumble). Will you raise your glass, so to speak, for wine again in the near future?

Maybe. We have been talking about doing an episode that focuses more on drink. Maybe we could talk about the wines from southern Sweden.

What is your history and relationship with wine and what led you to dig deeper into the world of wine in the first place?

I have loved wine since I got to taste a few drops in a thimble-sized glass as a child. It fascinates me that there is such a vast spectrum of flavours and many of them quite tickle the imagination. Stable, sweaty horse, sunny stone, salty sea breeze, anyone? You can paint a landscape with all those flavours. It’s like listening to a symphony, it evokes a lot of feelings. A perfect pairing can make you cry from sheer emotional overload. Wine gives you a lot of tools for expression.

Of your social media accounts, or which perhaps your Instagram (@sigridbarany) is the most popular, you show not only mouthwatering plates of food but also bottles you like. What is your aim and goal with this and what do you find is important with visibility in social media?

If you are in the inspirer business, it’s good to keep an internet presence. I like to share things that are so good I think everyone should try them and it makes me happy when someone does and comes back with enthusiastic feedback.

Talking wine, you are an avid pinot noir lover from my understanding. Please elaborate why pinot noir is so special to you and are there producers or regions that are more dear to you?

I like the subtlety and elegance of pinot noir and the spicy tasting notes give a lot of opportunities for interesting pairings, like beetroot, liquorice, mint and raspberry. Some vintage pinots that I have tasted are truly amazing, like dreaming of being a snake and slithering through the undergrowth of an ancient wildwood, with the beautiful notes of truffle, mushrooms, earth and leaves. When I first tasted Californian pinot noir I fell head over heels in love, then came Oregon and it was even better. Many red Bourgognes are of course superb and I turn to them when I’m in the mood for something with a lot of integrity, something less easily accessed and sometimes more challenging. Some wines require more presence and focus, it feels almost meditative.

Are there other wines that have a special place in your heart?

Hungarian wines, but there are not too many good ones to be found in Sweden. The dry Furmints and Olaszrizling and the mineral-y, smoky elegant red ones. And of course the sweet Tokaji, I especially love the wines from István Szepsy. I’m very fond of white Bourgognes with a lot of mineral notes and champagne, vintage ones and blanc de noirs. And sauvignon blancs with a lot of blackcurrant leaf notes, like Stoneleigh (nr 6311, 109 kr). And dry sherry. And sake, that’s a new passion for me.

If you would suggest three wines that both represent your cooking style and the Swedish summer, what would you tip our readers about?

Coto de Imaz Reserva (nr 2659, 109 kr), Brancott Estate Flight (nr 6314, 95 kr) and Bourgogne Blanc Jurassique (nr 5688, 112 kr).

Words: Pär Strömberg