The best part about drinking wine is the setting in which you enjoy it.
An open ﬁre pit cracks and snaps, sending glowing embers and the aroma of ﬁery food wafting through the air. Delicate florals invite guests to take a seat at the table filled with family and friends. As the long day wanes, chatter ensues, setting the senses to prepare for supper. Glasses of Napa Valley Cabernet, Alexander Valley Cabernet and barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc from The Setting Wines fill the scene.
Local chefs Anais Tangie (A.T. Connections), Bridget Bueche (Cook’s Perspective), Cody Requejo (Omega Blue Seafood) and John Park (Toast Kitchen and Bakery) have spent the day preparing an unbelievable feast for the guests. Luckily, Anne Watson is photographing, so when diners wake up the next day, they’ll know it wasn’t just a dream. These mementos will continue to tell the story of the Project Hope Alliance dinner that Noah and Debbie McMahon hosted at their home.
Fresh produce was picked up earlier that day from Orange Home Grown Farmer’s Market, pulled from the land at Black Sheep Produce, Diamond Mountain Ranch and Terrace Hill Family Farms not long before this scene unfolded. These precious gifts from earth danced with chef’s knives until they were laid to rest over the open fire pit. Alongside the veggies, seasoned pork shoulder slow roasted, vying for attention next to the massive cowboy tomahawk steaks and an army of chicken thighs that had been marinading in salty soy sauce and spicy chili paste. Yukon gold potatoes sizzled and seared in a cast iron skillet, later to be served simply with sea salt. Truly sustainable Baja Kanpachi had us taking notes as we saw it twine-tied to a water-soaked wooden plank and slow-cooked in the pit — honestly, the only way to cook fish from now on is over an open flame.
Handmade tortillas pressed from heirloom blue corn masa, various toppings, fresh-from-the-garden salads and creative sides shared the light with a dessert station to complete the night.
The only thing that could have made the dinner any better would have been if Abe Lincoln himself pulled up a seat, ready to make a toast. This, is the setting.
Q&A with Noah McMahon
What does Sunday supper mean to you? Growing up in Orange County in the 80’s, we had a tradition of going to Ham’s Country Cookery restaurant near South Coast Plaza almost every Sunday after church and then eating a family meal of “Cocoa and Toast” on Sunday evenings at home with my family. Cocoa and Toast was an invention from my dad’s side of the family that was toasted white bread with butter, then peanut butter on top… and it would be dipped into hot chocolate before eating. Certainly not something Norman Rockwell would have painted!
If you had a set of rules (ideology) for Sunday supper, what would it be? I think the only rule needs to be that the entire family is in attendance… it doesn’t matter if its at a restaurant or at home — both work — family is the only rule.
Aside from the food, what do you talk about? Is there a rule for that? Close family friends of ours (the Balla’s) always go around the table before meals together to say what they are grateful for — and that’s a rule worth stealing!
Can you give us a time-lapse of traditions of breaking bread in your life? Are any of these traditions centered around wine? Did they start with your family, and how they have evolved now? I was the first member of my family to drink wine, so my wife and I are “first-generation” wine enthusiasts. We found that wine was magical because of the community it created and the mood it sets. Sharing a meal and a bottle of wine is the best way to get to know others better. It is impossible to know everything about wine so there is an infinite amount of conversation material surrounding it.
What themes do you see transfer over to the daily dining from these shareable meals with friends? I love learning about other people and while business meetings and daily interactions often limit conversations, I believe that sharing meals and wine with clients and co-workers is the best way to develop closer relationships that translate into greater productivity.
Noah, ever since your Chapman University days you’ve been working to bring people together and do good in the world. How did you become involved with Costa Mesa-based Project Alliance Hope? I have incredible clients who fund hundreds of charities around the world — Project Hope Alliance is a favorite of one of our clients because they are doing incredible work to support homeless children. It is unfortunate that homelessness affects children as often as it does, but Project Hope Alliance is helping to break the cycle at the youth level.
The menu for the September dinner looked absolutely fascinating. How did it come to be? Did each participating chef get to contribute menu ideas? The dinner was an auction item we purchased to support Project Hope Alliance and it was donated by an incredible group of people and coordinated by Anais Tangie. She and chefs Bridget Bueche and Cody Requejo prepared a meal like none of the guests had ever seen! And fortunately Anne Watson photographed everything to prove it really happened.
How many people attended the event? Can you give us a sensory tour? About 30 guests attended the event and witnessed an interactive display of many types of fresh foods prepared near our pool and on our fire pit. After exceeding everyone’s expectations, we went down to our lower lawn where a full dinner and dessert were served. We enjoyed wines from The Setting Wines all evening and it could not have been more appropriate because of the incredible settings we enjoyed created by good friends, great weather, awesome music and incredible food and wine.
What were your favorite items on that menu? What do you think the guests’ favorites were? Aside from your wine, of course. Anything cooked by live fire automatically tastes better — so it is hard to choose between everything we ate — seeing fresh masa rolled into tortillas, hearing about how the produce was picked earlier in the day and seeing the fire-charred meats in front of us are all examples of how the setting is so important. Hearing stories about where food and wine comes from makes it taste better. Good friends, great music and an amazing setting also makes food and wine become more memorable — it really is all about the setting!
If you could invite anyone in the world to your Sunday supper, who would make the guest list? Assuming they don’t have to be a contemporary, Abraham Lincoln, a lot of my inspiration has come from him and I could learn a lot more from him if we could dine together.
What’s next for The Setting Wines? We just released our third vintage and it is by far the best — we are so proud of what Jesse Katz, our winemaker and partner, created! There are a few exciting partnerships in the works for 2019 and we could not be more proud of the product. The 2016 Cabernet from Oakville and Alexander Valley are very unique and different, but both the best I’ve tasted from each AVA!
The Setting Wines