My Life In Food: Frédéric Panïotis, cellar master, Champagne Ruinart


Frédéric Panaïotis has been the cellar master at Champagne Ruinart since 2007. He creates the blends, from the non vintages to the prestige cuvées, as well as travelling the globe meeting customers. Prior to this he spent more than 12 years with Champagne Veuve Clicquot.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

A Japanese knife called a Hocho is the item I use the most, which I bought in Japan on a business trip years ago. I like to cook fish a lot and whenever I cook it, I use this, because it is a beautiful piece of work. The piece of equipment I use the least is a device that allows you to make foam of the sort used in nouvelle cuisine. And I haven't used it yet.

If you only had £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

It would be 1.5-2kg of white asparagus from the market. It's so beautiful now – juicy, soft, very tasty. It's often said it's not a perfect pairing with wine, but you can make it work. My wife and I are very much in tune with using seasonal ingredients, so if you asked me that question in late August I would tell you I would buy some Mirabelles, the famous yellow plums from the Eastern part of France, which taste like no other thing.

What do you eat for comfort?

I maybe shouldn't say it, but it would probably be wine. Or a glass of either yellow or green VEP Chartreuse, which I love to drink, especially in winter – that would be a nice comforter. If it had to be food, it would probably be cheese, a nice piece of aged Comté.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

I'd choose bread, no doubt about it, but a good one, not the industrial kind. There's nothing like really good bread.

What's your desert island recipe?

It would be something simple, like a Tahitian-style arrow fish. You marinate the fish in salt-water (or seawater) and a bit of lime (I hope it's an island where you can find some lime!) and you just cook the fish for five minutes with a mixture of salt water and lime juice and then you add ground coconut and coconut milk and that's perfect.

What's your favourite cookbook?

All the books of Charlie Trotter, the chef from Chicago. His recipes are amazing, they're beautiful and quite complex, but without being a professional you can still end up with fantastic results. There is also no fat, no butter and no cream – it's all about reductions.

Who taught you about wine?

When I was young, my grandparents had a small vineyard in Champagne and to make a bit of money, during harvest I would pick the grapes and have a look at the press and taste the wines. The revelation came at a Christmas dinner back in 1984, when my uncle served a fantastic Burgundy and that's what really hooked me. I really learnt about it when studying winemaking and viticulture in Montpellier back in 86/87.

What advice would you give to aspiring cellar masters?

Be curious. Don't only focus on the wine, but be curious about the food. I think it's helpful to know how people drink the wine, how they enjoy it. And travelling is very important.