At one point Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol considered focusing on wine and doing food pairings around that.
"It wasn't working and also we didn't really believe that that's how people actually looked at food and wine," said Waverman, co-author of "The Flavour Principle," her ninth cookbook.
"Occasionally, maybe, you've got the special bottle so you do a meal around it, but in general not. So we decided to do it from the food angle," added the Globe and Mail food columnist.
The Toronto-based team also took into consideration that each dish has an "overarching flavour that just really is an appealing part of the dish and that's what we should be matching to."
Co-author Crosariol, who's written food and spirits columns for the Globe and Mail for a dozen years, noted there are many books about food and beverages "but there's not that many to bring them all together in a really big holistic way.
"So we thought if we took those overarching flavour elements and broke them down into chapters, then that would provide that kind of missing link in how you pair appropriate beverages to food. ... There are many beverages that have those overarching elements."
"The Flavour Principle" (HarperCollins Canada), with more than 30 menus along with beverage pairings, has been organized around flavours — from bitter, herbal, smoky and creamy, through earthy, nutty, salty, sweet, tart and spicy.
The authors conclude with umami, the fifth taste discovered by Kikunae Ikeda. His analysis of seaweed soup led the Japanese chemist to add umami — a hybrid of the Japanese words "umai" for delicious and "mi," meaning essence — to the traditional four taste regions in the mouth, sour, bitter, salty and sweet.
"We wanted to do a chapter where the flavours were out of sight in a sense," Waverman said.
Items like anchovies, soy sauce, Parmesan cheese and miso, "those kind of things just give a flavour in food that is unbelievable and if you use them judiciously you can bring out the flavour in food that maybe isn't as flavourful as you would like it to be.
"The other thing that I think is definitely umami is chicken soup. If you make it properly and you reduce it it gets so rich and it has this kind of gelatinous feel. To me perfect roast chicken is the perfect umami dish. How can you get better than that paired with Beppi's very interesting wine choice for this? ... We did an apple pie too because don't you think apple pie is the essence of soul?"
Crosariol paired Waverman's Lemon-Scented Roast Chicken with Chablis, with its "weighty substance" and "plenty of complexity" while a Coteaux du Layon in the Loire Valley, based on chenin blanc, adds "a splash of magic to baked apple desserts," including Umami Apple Pie.
Waverman said some of the mouthwatering recipes, beautifully photographed by Ryan Szulc, may have had their origins from her newspaper column or Food and Drink, the magazine of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario of which she is the food editor, but they were all changed.
"You look at something you've done one or two years ago and say, 'You know, if I twisted it that way I think it would be a better recipe.' Everything was retested and there's lots of original recipes in here."
She's particularly proud of her Ultimate Umami Paste, rich and sophisticated Chocolate Cajeta (in the creamy chapter), and Quick Preserved Lemons (tart chapter), in which she uses salt rather than sugar. The result is that the lemons are ready to use in a maximum of 24 hours rather than a week to a month using the sugar method.
"I honestly think that's original. I'm a big marmalade maker and it came out of doing that," she said. "I think these are really special recipes that you don't find in other books, which have never appeared anywhere else either by the way."
Along with the tart flavours of citrus and vinegars, the other big flavour for the pair was earthy since it encompasses so many foods we eat — potatoes, beets, truffles, mushrooms, beans, carrots and brown rice, for example.
The first menu devised for the book was Argentinian, which has Mediterranean influences and falls under the earthy category. Included is Argentinian Short Ribs, cooked with a rich sauce and served with Jerusalem Artichoke and Potato Puree. The wine match is a full-bodied and robust malbec.
Crosariol said some of his favourite pairings involve contrasts. "Say it's a dish with a lot of aromatics, like an Indian inspired, I love wines that have really rich fruit to them — Gewurztraminer or Viognier. You're really adding something, not supporting," he said.
Waverman said she felt challenged to make sure the recipes "were authentic, that they worked, that people would understand the flavours in them, I hoped, and why they go together with what Beppi had chosen."
Along with taking on his first book project, which consumed them for about a year, Crosariol said there was an additional complexity for him.
"I found a big challenge that when you're sampling food at Lucy's house is keeping your weight down. I cycle back and forth to her house."