2006_05_food_ted.jpgIt's easy to bring out your inner sommelier -- just step outside. At our doorstep are some of the finest ingredients just begging to be matched with wine. A stroll down Bleecker Street with Ted Allen, the food and wine expert from Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (pictured at right tasting the pulp of a cacao pod for the first time) showed us how simple it was to create elegant and seemingly fancy pairings without even having to turn on your stove (or even your microwave). Turns out the key to a great pairing is picking high quality ingredients and highlighting what makes them special. For example, if the food is only made in a specific area, pick a wine from that area; if it has a citrus accent, select a wine with a crisp acidity. A great paring highlights the unique attributes of both the food and the wine. On this particular evening, all wines were provided by Robert Mondavi's Private Selection.

Starting at The Lobster Place, we got down to basics. A plain, unadorned kumamoto oyster tastes of the briny essence of the sea without being overpowering -- a great beginner's oyster. The kumamoto was paired with the 2005 Sauvignon Blanc, a youthful, crisp wine with citrus notes that added a great contrast to the rich, salty oyster. Much better than a squirt of lemon.

The next stop was O & Co., a veritable shrine to olive oil and olive products. Even the chandelier was composed of glistening vials of liquid gold. We focused on one of their specialty tapanades, with candied lemon adding a surprise burst to a traditional black olive tapenade. We can't emphasize enough how delicious this was merely spread on a thin slice of a soft, crusty baguette, yet paired with the 2004 Merlot, it was truly propelled to greatness. The lush, velvety texture of the merlot with ripe blackberry notes provided the perfect backdrop to punch out the tangy and sweet flavors of the tapenade.

2006_05_food_cheesecave.jpgOnward to Murray's Cheese, for a behind the scenes tour. In this case, we got to know our ingredients very well -- we visted them while they were in the in process of aging to absolute perfection in the custom-built cheese caves. We strapped on our hair nets and booties and stepped into the tiny space filled with hundreds of cheeses from around the world, each awaiting the day it would be proudly displayed behind the glass counter among the other perfectly aged beauties. After the tour, we tasted three of Murray's gems, each with very unique tastes and textures. Our favorite pairing was the Abbaye de Citeaux paired with the 2005 Pinot Noir. The reason this combination worked so well for us was the pinot noir perfectly accented the cheese's earthy, nutty flavors. The acidity and structure of the pinot provied the perfect contrast to the creamy texture of the cheese.

2006_05_food_guittard.jpgOur last stop of the tour was dessert at Ted Allen's spacious apartment -- it was just like ours, but fabulous (no joke, we could fit our entire apartment into his kitchen). In true Queer Eye fashion, it was all about the presentation. Something as simple as a chocolate bar (albeit a very high quality, delicious one) became an extravagant dessert, laid out on a wooden sushi plate next to a single cocoa bean, and crushed cocoa nibs. The E. Guittard Ambanja bittersweet from Madagascar was dark and luscious, and was matched with the classic chocolate pairing -- an intense, concentrated 2004 Zinfandel. This pairing was reminicient of fresh, ripe berries drizzled with dark chocolate ganache.

What we took away from the evening is that you don't need Ted Allen's kitchen to be fabulous. In fact, you don't need a kitchen at all. The most impressive combinations are often the most simple. Select a fresh, high quality ingredient that gets you excited, and find a wine that brings out its best quality.

Co-authored by Laren Spirer.