Roberto Cortez creates some of the finest food I have ever eaten. And, this opinion is shared by my wife Laurie, and many of our friends who have experienced his food. There are several things about Roberto that make him unique. One is that his food knows no boundaries. It is not nouvelle, it is not Asian-fusion, it is not California cuisine, it is not classical French, it is not Italian. These are some of the things it is not. But, then what is it? Well, I would say that it is flavor cuisine presented as art. Unusual? Yes. Great? Yes. You see, Roberto makes food that has great flavor and combines ingredients to make complex flavors that are impeccably assembled. Then it is presented in a manner that strikes your visual senses the moment it is presented. And then your sense of smell and taste are challenged to identify the component parts. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, but the combination is a sense of flavors and tastes that are extraordinary. It is, in short, culinary art that is flavor centric.
For now, Roberto is a secret known only to a few. He has never worked at or owned a restaurant in his 20 some years of culinary adventures. He has worked as a private chef with his longest tenure being five years with Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. He has had other stints with celebrities such as actor Eddie Murphy and has done hundreds of private dinners. He is self-trained, but has been to the best schools and has studied the chemistry of foods. He utilizes all of the latest cooking techniques such as sous vide, dehydration, and hydrocolloid manipulations, as well as old French techniques picked up in France.
And, he has mastered them all. If I had to try to describe whose cooking his food reminds me of the most, I would say it is somewhat reminiscent of three great chefs from the past:
1) Frédy Girardet, the great Swiss chef, who produced incredible food at his restaurant Girardet in Crissier, Switzerland for nearly three decades in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Frédy’s cuisine was most often described as nouvelle French, but it was more. He was very inventive and a master at combining ingredients and flavors.
2) The late Jean-Louis Palladin from restaurant Jean-Louis at the Watergate in Washington D.C. was a true visionary in assembling fresh and unique ingredients. For 17 years from 1979 to 1996, he produced two menus a night. One was shorter than the other, but the dishes on each were different. The food was stunning and the flavors were matched beautifully and presented in an elegant manner. He once told me that in all those years, he never cooked the same dish twice. Each day he bought the freshest ingredients available and brought them to his kitchen where he worked up the recipes and prepared the food.
3) Bruce Lefavour of the restaurant Rose et Lefavour in St. Helena, California who for a period in the early 80s into the 90s, created masterful dishes. The food was basically French, but owing to Bruce’s experiences in other parts of the world it had a real international flair. He was incredibly creative and his food was really extraordinary.
Today there are many other great chefs all over the world. In no particular order, my friends and I would include such names as the following:
Michel Troisgros (Troisgros, Roanne, France) www.troisgros.fr 
Guy Savoy (Guy Savoy, Paris, France) * www.guysavoy.com 
Gary Danko (Gary Danko, San Francisco, California) www.garydanko.com
Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago, Illinois) * www.charlietrotters.com 
Hilario Arbelaitz (Zuberoa, Otartzun, San Sebastian, Spain) www.zuberoa.com 
Joel Rubuchon (Paris, France) * www.joel-rubuchon.net 
Juan Mari and Elena Arzak (Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain) www.arzak.info 
Pierre Gagnaire (Paris, France) * www.pierregagnaire.com 
Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Jean-Georges, New York, New York) * www.jean-georges.com 
Eric Ripert (Le Bernadin, New York, New York) www.le-bernadin.com 
Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park, New York, New York) www.elevenmadisonpark.com 
Josiah Citrin (Melisse, Santa Monica, California) www.melisse.com 
Alain Ducasse (Paris, France) * www.alain-ducasse.com 
Ferran Andria (El Bulli, Roses, Catalonia, Spain) – Closing July 31, 2011 www.elbulli.com 
Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck, Bray, Maidenhead, Berkshire, U.K.) www.thefatduck.co.uk 
Wolfgang Puck (Spago, Beverly Hills, California) * www.wolfgangpuck.com 
Peter Goossens (Hof Van Cleve, Kruishoutem, Belgium) www.hofvancleve.com 
Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Yountville, California) www.frenchlaundry.com 
* Denotes more than one location
But, all of these chefs have restaurants and serve a lot of people at a time. Some have multiple restaurants with different chefs. My friends and I have had many memorable meals at these restaurants over the years. But, there have been some exceptions. Certainly, there have been times when things have been stretched and every restaurant has some glitches now and then. Roberto avoids this by doing everything himself. A multi-course dinner can take three or more days to prepare. Then he will come to your kitchen to do last minute cooking and put everything together. The closest you can get to this with the great restaurants, is to have the chef personally oversee a special meal for a small group in the restaurant. And, not all chefs will do this. Roberto excels because he always cooks for a small group. He does not like to cook for more that 12 people at a time (although he has, on occasion, has stretched this to 20). Dinners may consist of four to eight courses. I have experienced well over 100 dishes prepared by Roberto and have not had the same one twice, although I would be extremely happy to have all of them over and over again. That is not likely to happen, since that is not what he wants to do. What he really likes to do is invent new things. And, this challenges his creativity to come up with more and more new things. The dishes combine different ingredients that marry beautifully. Some may have Southwestern, Asian, French, Italian, or Spanish influences. It really depends on what you want and what Roberto has in his mind to prepare at a point in time. And, by limiting the number of dishes of any one thing that he prepares, he can do it all himself and assure that is done perfectly and just the way he wants it.
I could go on and on. But you can get a visual impression by scrolling down and looking at menus for two recent meals Roberto prepared in our home. There are photos and a description of each dish. Every one of these dishes was remarkable. Next is a list of the wines chosen for each dish and descriptions. The wines were from my cellar and the cellars of guests attending. This is another great thing about Roberto’s meals. You can choose wines from your cellar and have a wine theme. That’s what I did here and both meals were a great success. But, you really need to have this experience for yourself. Roberto is just now embarking on a new endeavor of doing a limited number of meals at different locations in the Los Angeles area. To get information on these and make reservations, you can contact him at www.robertocortez.com . He will also continue to be available for private dinners prepared in your home. Food by Roberto is indeed extraordinary. You don’t want to miss it!
Food by Roberto Cortez
May 28, 2011
Oak-grilled gold potatoes, mustard, thyme & tarragon dressing, crumbled soft egg
Michel Cordon Bleu smoked salmon, Umbrian olive oil, cucumber, dill
Spanish peppers stuffed with tuna, lemon parsley & caper salad
Pan-crusted Lamb loin, cherries, mint gel, cauliflower puree, walnut oil crunch
Mini truffle cheese sandwiches
Amedei Porcelana and “9” chocolate tasting
April 21, 2011
Santa Fe buckwheat crepe
caramelized squash blossom with shrimp and roasted poblano crema
Polenta cheddar fries
Mesquite smoked tomato relish
natural Hans chicken sausage
Citrus ancho chile marinated Mangalitsa Pork with fresh corn tortillas
roasted pineapple scallion salsa and feta
pear basil guacamole
8 spice brined Mangalitsa Pork tenderloin
desert honey mustard sauce
Wine by The Underground
May 28, 2011
With the appetizers two Champagnes:
2002 Taittinger Comptes de Champagne Rosé.
This is a gorgeous, finesseful Champagne that seems to be near its peak. It is pale salmon-pink in color with a golden hue and a golden edge. The perfume is gorgeous with floral, peach, cherry, and spice nuances. It is creamy, lush, rounded, and elegant with hints of peach and citrus and an underlying floral and spice note — Outstanding Plus.
1996 Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or Rosé.
This Champagne is now fully mature. It still shows the same exotic fruit of its youth, but with less intensity. And offsetting that is a lush creaminess. The color is now pale copper with a golden hue and a golden edge. The wine has a lovely perfume with hints of exotic fruit and a touch of spice. Creamy, rich, luscious and very flavorful, this is an outstanding Champagne in a stunning bottle –- Outstanding Plus.
These Champagnes were great matches for the appetizers. The Comptes de Champagne Rosé was particularly delicious with the Salmon. They both worked really well with the potato and the Palmes d’Or Rosé was particularly good with the carbonara.
With the stuffed Peppers:
1985 Rene Collard Rosé.
The late Rene Collard was a master of the craft of making great Champagnes. He used only Pinot Meunier which is very, very unusual in Champagne where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the predominant grape varieties and Pinot Meunier is used most often as part of a blend. That notwithstanding, his Champagnes develop great complexity with age and are very long lived. This 1985 is pale golden pink in color with a golden hue. It has a very deep spice tinged perfume with faint mushroom and floral nuances. On the palate it shows great intensity, with deep chiseled flavors showing citrus, mineral and a faint berry spice tinged fruit. Very long and crisp on the palate, this is a great Champagne — Outstanding Plus.
This old Champagne with its complex flavors, intensity, and crispness was the perfect match for this flavorful tuna pepper dish which had earthy, citrus, sweet notes.
With the two courses of lamb & mini truffle cheese sandwiches:
1999 Diamond Creek Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Lake Vineyard.
Still a baby, but nonetheless delicious, this wine will be even better with 5-10 years additional age. It has a deep perfume of cassis, black berry, cedar and spice. There is tremendous fruit with a tinge of cedar and a firm underlying structure with a soft tannin underneath. Showing the pedigree, flavors, and balance of wines from this great vineyard, patience here will be well rewarded –- Outstanding/Extraordinary.
1992 Diamond Creek Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Lake Vineyard.
Dark in color, this anniversary bottling, representing the 20th year from the first vintage for Diamond Creek Vineyards, is at the perfect stage of fruit and complexity and with some additional years of bottle age should soften even more. Just now it shows a deep perfume of cassis with hints of cedar, spice, and sandalwood. It has great depth of fruit with spice, cedar, and sandalwood nuances and is lush, and flavorful and beautifully balanced with a long finish. Drink now or wait. I would think that this wine should easily see the 50th year Diamond Creek Vineyards anniversary –- Extraordinary.
1990 Diamond Creek Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Lake Vineyard.
This is the second bottle I have had of this wine from my cellar in the last few months. This bottle showed just a bit more age, but was, nonetheless, terrific. I would say that it is now at a peak, but should hold for many years. Dark in color and just amber at the edge, the wine has a deep perfume of cedar, sandalwood, and spice. It is lush, rounded and supple with a gorgeous cedar-tinged fruit and hints of spice. This bottle showed just a bit more cedar and a little less fruit than the previous bottle — Outstanding Plus. and the previous bottle Extraordinary.
It was fascinating to contrast and compare these three vintages of Lake with the lamb and then later with the mini truffle cheese sandwiches. The 1992 and the 1990 were absolutely a match made in heaven with the gorgeous lamb dish and its incredible flavors and complexity. The fruitiness of the 1999 went very well with the richness and earthy, creamy flavors of the mini truffle cheese sandwiches.
With the Chocolate:
NV Mark Swann Golden Muscat Rutherglen, Australia.
Rutherglen is located in the North-East section of the state of Victoria and produces Australia’s only true indigenous wine which is fortified Golden Muscat. This is a gorgeous example. The wine was aged 10 years in wood before bottling approximately 25 years ago. It is deep amber in color with orange tones and a golden edge. The perfume is stunning. With a perfume of dried figs, mango, apricot, and exotic fruit with a spicy, vanilla-tinged nuance, the wine is lush and sweet, but with a lovely crispness on the finish. There is a cornucopia of fruit on the palate showing the same elements as in the nose and there are intense flavors without a sense of heat or heaviness — Extraordinary.
This is a great dessert wine and a great wine with Chocolate. The Amadei chocolate is one of the great chocolates of the world and the Porcelana is really fabulous. For me Golden Muscat such as this and great old dessert sherry are the two very best wines with Chocolate. These are perfectly matched flavors.
The Southwest Dinner
April 21, 2011
This dinner began with a couple of appetizers:
Fresh roasted red peppers with smoky salt and extra virgin olive oil served on an almond crisp cracker with a light spread of cream cheese.
Freshly cut cubes of chilled Galia melon sprinkled with freshly squeezed key lime juice wrapped in prosciutto and garnished with a chiffonade of fresh peppermint.
These were prepared by my wife, Laurie, and served with a wonderful, ice cold, NV Louis Sacy Champagne Grand Cru that is rich and very complex and creamy. Appetizers such as these and great ice cold Champagne are a regular part of our dinner meals at Casa Tilson. And, this was a delicious way to begin as Roberto was putting the final touches on his first spectacular Southwest-inspired dish. I had matched the dishes with an unusual assortment of different wines and the results were amazing.
With the crepe:
1997 Rudi Pichler Gruner Veltliner Wosendorfer Hochrein.
This is a great Austrian wine. It goes well with vegetables and lighter types of fish. Light yellow in color, it has a stunning perfume that is exotic with tinges of mango, apricot and citrus. The wine has exquisite flavor and balance. It is light and seductive, but with a lasting finish. The flavors are complex with mango and apricot fruit and a citrus tinge balancing the exotic nuances beautifully –- Outstanding Plus.
Wow. This was some combination of flavors! The complexity of the pepper cream and slight sweetness of the caramelized squash blossom with the delicate flavors of the shrimp were in perfect harmony with this stunning Gruner Veltliner.
With the chicken sausage and polenta cheddar fries:
1995 Claude and Florence Thomas-Labaille Sancerre Chavignol Les Monts Dames Cuvée Buster.
Older Sancerre can be remarkable in its complexity and suppleness. This small production Sancerre, chosen in the best years from selected barrels of wine produced from 75-year-old vines, is consistently one of the best Sancerres on the planet. The name Cuvée Buster is the name created by the Louis Dressner family who select and import the wine. Buster is an actual dog (part Pit Bull and part Welsh Cardigan Corgi) whose picture appears on all wines selected by Louis Dressner as being exceptional. Light yellow in color, the nose of this wine is complex with hints of mineral, citrus, and melon and developing a very slight tropical nuance. On the palate it is soft and round with great fruit and a very slight exotic flavor followed by a crisp, lingering finish –- Outstanding Plus.
The flavors and textures in the chicken sausage and polenta cheddar fries were very harmonious and flavorful. This Sancerre brought just the right balance, not too heavy, but with enough depth of flavor to make a great pairing.
With the marinated Mangalitsa pork:
2001 Pesquera Crianza Ribera Del Duero.
These Spanish wines can be very long lived. This 2001 is just a baby. Crianza means that it was aged in wood for only one year to retain more fruitiness. Dark in color with a faint amber tinge and amber edge, the wine has a gorgeous perfume of berries and plums with nuances of cedar, spice, and a faint smokiness. It has lots of delicious spice-tinged fruit and has a firm underlying acidity assuring it of a long life. Drink it now or keep it as long as you wish –- Outstanding.
With the spice-brined Mangalitsa pork tenderloin:
NV Vega Sicilia Reserva Especial Unico Ribera del Duero.
The Reserva Especial Unico, made from a blend of wine from different years and given prolonged aging, is the flagship wine of this great house. Founded in 1864, Vega Sicilia is the premier wine producer in Spain and consistently produces wines that rank with the greatest wines in the world. They have produced an amazing number of great vintage-dated Unicos, such as 1953, 1962, 1968 and 1970. And, although the NV Reserva Especial Unicos don’t seem to get as much attention as some of the vintage-dated Grand Reserva Unicos, they are consistently very great wines. This is the greatest Reserva Especial I have ever had. It is also one of the best red wines I have ever had in my life. It was bottled in 1981 and released for sale in 1988. I acquired my bottles immediately after release. It is a blend of the 1960, 1965, and 1972 vintages and what a wine it is! With a deep ruby color showing a faint amber tone and amber edge, this Reserva Especial has an absolutely knock-out perfume of cedar, rose petals, plums, spice, and a very faint exotic tinge. On the palate, it is extraordinarily complex with flavors of cedar, spice, rose petals, and a slight forest-like component. It is supple and lush, but balanced by a slight underlying crispness that adds to the complexity and vibrancy. Very long on the finish, this is the stuff that dreams are made of –- Extraordinary Plus.
What can I say? The pork dish was unbelievably great with wonderful texture, flavor, and complexity. The nuances of sweetness balanced by a herbal tartness were remarkable. And the wine? Oh my. It was so great and such a phenomenal match with this food that I am at a loss for words. Let me just say that this dish and this wine are right up there with the best food and wine pairings I have ever had in my life!