The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2013

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The duo's fork and cork collaboration sparked when they met at el Bulli, where Paya worked as sommelier from 2002 to 2007. During Andrés's visits to catch up with Chef Ferrán Adrià and the team, he would also have extensive conversations with Paya about wine. After his stint at the now shuttered groundbreaking restaurant, Paya worked for a Spanish wine importer and came to D.C. to meet with Andrés. The chef, who was yet again expanding his culinary empire, told him about his new concept at L.A.'s SLS Hotel. Paya left his post and helped open the restaurant, and relocated to the District about a year and a half ago. His current role demands that he travel to Andrés concepts about 50 percent of the time, and he welcomes the diversity in daily duties. "José has very different and varied concepts—so it is a lot of fun to one day be searching for Greek wines, and the next day to be looking for California bottles." Paya also relishes his job as corporate ambassador, to maintain and solidify relationships with the most prestigious Spanish wineries. Most challenging, he says, has been the balancing act of dividing his time and attention equally among all the different teams and restaurants. It's also been tricky sourcing wine offerings for some of the concepts, including the Mexican and Chinese fusion at China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas; neither country offers access to a bevy of wine selections, nor are guests very familiar with their offerings. Andrés's recent revamping (and expansion) of his prix-fixe, 30-course molecular gastronomy temple minibar has given Paya lots of liquid leeway, with four "beverage experiences" for guests, ranging from the Virtue (ten different alcohol-free libations) and the Experience (a mélange of wines, beers and cocktails), to the Celebration (a focus on sparkling wines) and the José (expensive and more obscure selections.) "Having a beverage pairing elevates the experience, because you get to relax and enjoy the meal, knowing that your food and beverages have been methodically selected so that you solely focus on the food, drink and company." He also believes the prix-fixe beverage options give the guests more opportunity to interact with the chef. Speaking of which, Paya has no shortage of must-try food-and-wine pairing suggestions at ThinkFoodGroup restaurants, including Manzanilla sherry with "Ferran Adrià spherical olives" at Jaleo, a Lebanese red wine with spit-roasted lamb shoulder at mezze hotspot Zaytinya, and an oak-fermented Chardonnay with market fish ceviche and avocado roll at The Bazaar by José Andrés. "The small-plate dining style in most of our restaurants—a classic signature of José—allows sharing a great variety of dishes with your dinners, and endless possibilities of food and wine pairings at your table." Whether he's updating his menus to incorporate new seasonal dishes, training staff or planning a wine dinner, Paya immerses himself in the beverage that deliciously encompasses each of his days. "Wine is culture, so when we buy, taste or study wine, we are learning how to enjoy and live life. It's a very rewarding and enriching position to be in." june 2013  /  the tasting panel  /  107 TP0613_080-119.indd 107 5/23/13 5:31 PM

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