At face value, J Vineyards’ summer wine and food pairing experience, “Shifting the Lens,” will showcase three chefs of color (Jenny Dorsey, Preeti Mistry and Shenarri Freeman), pairing their culinary creations and favorite flavor profiles with J Vineyards wines.
But Mistry isn’t a face-value kind of person. An outspoken activist for food justice and inclusion, Mistry used their platform as a Top Chef Season 6 contestant and as a guest on Michelle Obama’s “Waffles + Mochi” Netflix series to spotlight the need for representation of people of color in the food world (Mistry uses the pronouns they/them).
As a new Sonoma County resident and curator of “Shifting the Lens,” Mistry is expanding Wine Country’s narrow vision of wine and food pairing — cheese, charcuterie, European cuisine — to include global ingredients and underrepresented voices.
“We wanted to do something that not only showcased different cuisines with the wine but went beyond that to the deeper meaning behind the pairings,” Mistry said.
The winery says the event will build on its “legacy of growing, evolving and challenging people’s notions on pairing wine with food,” according to the online description of the chefs’ curated tasting menus.
“At J, we believe that learning about how a meal is made, the story behind its ingredients and how the chef’s experience shaped the dish goes beyond culinary knowledge. It broadens our scope and takes us to a place of discovery and connection,” the winery website says. J Vineyards & Winery is owned by E. & J. Gallo.
During Dorsey’s, Mistry’s and Freeman’s monthlong residencies at J Vineyards, each will prepare a five-course tasting menu that will be featured at the winery’s Bubble Room and host a VIP dinner and discussion.
“It’s so rare for chefs like us, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) women, to have the platform and stage, cooking the food of our own culture,” Mistry said of the Indian, Chinese and soul food cuisines featured in the series. “People think these might not pair well with wine, but that’s absolutely not true.”
Mistry, who identifies as a queer, first-generation Indian woman, plans to include green garbanzo beans with stone fruit, sprouted mung puri and hibiscus pani along with burnt masala quail with saffron rice and a dessert of saffron cardamom yogurt pudding. Dorsey’s and Freeman’s menus are still in the works.
Dorsey is the founder of Studio ATAO, a nonprofit that advocates for equitable standards in the hospitality industry. Freeman champions plant-based Southern soul food inspired by her family in North Carolina.
All three chefs focus on farm-to-table cuisine, using fresh and local ingredients, but Mistry said the moniker isn’t unique to European cuisine.
“Right now, I’m in a crunch for sourcing (these meals) at local farms. I’m running around to find someone growing parilla and shiso. It’s about dispelling the myth that the only farm-to-table food is European. Where do you think the rest of us get food?” Mistry said.
While there were more than 10 chefs on the winery’s shortlist for the residency, Mistry said it came down to a handful of people who really inspired them.
“This is part of a larger vision,” Mistry said. The goal is to create mentorships and showcase people who can bring even more impact and change to the community.
Dorsey’s tasting menu will be at the Bubble Room July 7-10 and July 14-17, with a VIP dinner on July 9. Mistry’s tasting menu will be available Aug. 18-21 and Aug. 25-28, with a VIP dinner Aug. 20. Freeman’s tasting menu will be available Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 and Oct. 6-9, with a VIP dinner on Oct. 1. More details at jwine.com.