The chalkboard next to a small metal tip bucket serves up a heaping sense of pride for Walla Walla chef Andrae Bopp.
It reads simply, "AK's Burger Counter 4,840 as of today."
"That's not just 4,840 burgers made from beef right here in the Walla Walla Valley," Bopp said. "It's also 4,840 servings of local tomatoes, 4,840 times we've used local onions, local bacon, pickled local cucumbers and 4,840 times we've used the local bakery. All of the ingredients are sourced locally, which is pretty cool."
Resourceful is just one way to describe Bopp, which rhymes with "pope." And while Walla Walla appears to be the final destination for this St. Louis native, his high-profile mobile kitchen doesn't appear to be his last business move.
Would you believe a drive-through window and sit-down seating in a mini-mart? If all works out, look for Bopp inside the Cenex Convenience Store at the corner of Rose and Ninth.
"It would give us a year-round location that's not weather-dependent. Here we are now, standing outside in a hail/blizzard/rainstorm," Bopp said with a chuckle.
He's not complaining, though. That Mississippi-built food truck has been a tremendous vehicle for his growing catering business.
"It's pretty damn busy here," he said. "It's the busiest intersection in Walla Walla, which is kind of nice because it gives us great visibility and great access. People can very easily, park and eat inside. It's a good spot."
Even though Bopp, 46, never has had a brick-and-mortar location in Walla Walla, visibility hasn't been a problem for this accomplished social network user to cook up. He uses Facebook, Twitter and email to communicate with his followers, a list that includes many Walla Walla winemakers.
He accepts reservations online for his popular La Porte Brune project, a series of Northwest "underground" dinners. Guests sign up in advance, knowing only the date and the city. They receive an email shortly before the dinner informing them of the exact location.
"They are not so underground anymore since I'm all permitted up," he said. "Basically, they are glorified winemaker dinners that I'm preparing right out of the truck."
Ah, the truck.
"It started on a wild night of drinking in Seattle with friends," Bopp said with a smile. "A guy throws a newspaper article across the table to me about the food truck business in L.A., and they said you should just do this. I said, "In Walla Walla?" And they said, "Yeah, in Walla Walla!"
After forking over $80,000, the 8 1/2-foot by 18-foot trailer came with 50 cubic feet of refrigeration, a 6-foot range, a 24-inch charbroiler, a 24-inch flattop grill and a 40-pound deep fryer.
He rolled out AK's in Walla Walla during the 2010 grape harvest, first near the airport across from Dunham Cellars. Then came invitations from downtown to set up at the tony Corliss Estates and then the upscale Marcus Whitman Hotel.
"We do lunch Monday through Friday, usually somewhere close to town," Bopp said. "On the weekends, we travel to wineries -- mostly south of town since there really aren't a lot of food options there -- so we'll set up at Dusted Valley, Sleight of Hand and Saviah and provide lunch to wine tourists.
"That's during the day," he continued. "On the evenings, it's wine dinners -- both private and public -- and catered events."
On Memorial Day, he trucked AK's to the Gorge at George for the Sasquatch! Music Festival. In October, he hauled it to West Seattle for a "chowdown" competition among more than 20 food trucks.
It's been quite a transformation for Bopp from his eponymous, French-inspired restaurant just a couple of blocks from the Idaho state Capitol in Boise. In 2006, Andrae's earned an "Outstanding Northwest Wine List Award" from Wine Press Northwest. A few months later, Bopp won two awards from the Washington Wine Commission, one of them for Best Out-of-State Washington Wine Program.
"I love the Walla Walla Valley and the guys who are making wine there," he declared in his Summer 2007 profile as a Match Maker.
He still has a soft spot for that Boise restaurant, using the stylized "A" that appeared on the door as the logo for AK's.
Despite his mobile kitchen, don't make the mistake of viewing Bopp as a hobo or winery roadie. The former competitive cyclist graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City, worked at several Manhattan hotspots and still returns to the Big Apple for inspiration.
But when it came time to start out on his own, Bopp chose Boise over Walla Walla because he wasn't sure if Walla Walla couldn't support another fine-dining restaurant.
After five years, he learned Boise wasn't ready, either. He moved to Walla Walla and switched careers. His close friends at Dusted Valley Vintners -- Corey Braunel and Chad Johnson -- created a position for him.
"They gave me a shot to come in and work harvest, and that turned into a full-time job for a couple of years as an assistant winemaker," Bopp said. "I was doing a little catering on the side, and pretty soon it turned into a little more catering than winemaking. I told them, 'Hey, I've got to get back into the food business,' which they knew was coming."
In his previous Match Maker appearance, Bopp featured Alaskan halibut via sous vide, the only time in the 14-year history of the food-and-wine pairing profile that a chef has deployed the French technique of vacuum-sealing food in a bag with seasonings. Ironically, that dish included a smoked Walla Walla sweet onion puree.
Now, with AK's, Bopp is helping to remove pretense from the wine culture.
"That's our goal -- to give people really quality food at a fair price," he said.
The Chicken Curry ($8), made with jasmine rice and green onion, paired deliciously with the Dunham Cellars 2009 Lewis Estate Vineyard Riesling.
Asian-influenced cuisine is a natural match for off-dry Rieslings, and this carries enough acidity to balance its own sugar (2.3%). The fruit profile of the Dunham Riesling features orchard fruit and subtle baking spices, which transitions nicely as the Golden and Red Delicious apples incorporate into Bopp's curry sauce.
The other Match Maker wine was the Cadaretta 2008 Syrah, and it allowed Bopp to address another debate surrounding wine and food.
"I get a lot of people ask me about pairing red wine with salad," he said.
So he offered his Duck Confit on Arugula. That rich meat, backed by shredded Parmesan cheese, the nutty interplay of the arugula and walnuts, and thin drizzle of his blackberry vinaigrette complemented the brambleberry accents of the Cadaretta Syrah. The wine's bright acidity made the balsamic vinegar component a virtual nonfactor.
Bopp posts the AK's menu online, and while it changes frequently, Chicken Curry with Jasmine Rice has become a standing item.
And as of Dec. 1, wine tourists who fly out of Walla Walla on Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air can check one case of Walla Walla wine for free. Cadaretta and Dunham Cellars are among the more than 70 participating wineries.
Andrae's Kitchen, c/o Cenex Convenience Store, Rose & Ninth St., Walla Walla, 99362, 509-572-0728, andraeskitchen.com, laportebrune.com, Twitter @AndraesKitchen.
Chicken Curry with Jasmine Rice
6 boneless chicken thighs, diced
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 cups Curry Sauce (see recipe below)
4-5 cups cooked Jasmine rice
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
1. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and saute in the canola oil until golden brown and cooked through.
2. Place in bowl and toss with curry sauce. Place over the rice and top with green onion and peanuts.
Makes 2 cups
This curry sauce will work with all forms of seafood and shrimp as well as by itself for vegetarian purposes.
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons Wondra(R) Flour
1 cup coconut milk
3 cups vegetable stock
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled and chopped
1 Red Delicious apple, peeled and chopped
1 tomato, peeled and seeded
5 tablespoons curry powder
2 curry leaves, 1 stalk lemon grass,
2 sprigs thyme, bundled together with string
Salt, pepper to taste
1. Sweat onions and garlic in butter.
2. Add paste and cook out.
3. Add Wondra and stir in.
4. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 90 minutes. Remove herbs and place remainder in blender. Blend, strain and season with salt and pepper.
Duck Confit with Arugula and Blackberry Vinaigrette
6 duck legs, fat scored
1 bunch rosemary
1 bunch thyme
12 garlic cloves, minced
8 shallots, minced
Cracked black pepper
1 1/2 quart duck fat
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 shallots, minced
1 pint blackberries
2/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup canola oil
4 cups Arugula
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 duck breasts, seared, chilled, sliced
1/2 cup Parmesan Reggiano, shredded
Prepare the duck confit:
1. Place legs, herbs, garlic and shallots in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pack into a dish and cover tightly. Refrigerate 24 to 72 hours.
2. Remove and brush off mixture. Place scored side down in a saute pan and cook over medium heat until crispy and fat is rendered.
3. Place legs in roasting pan and cover with duck fat. Place in oven at 275*F for 4-5 hours or until meat pulls off bone. Remove, strain duck fat and reserve.
Prepare the blackberry vinaigrette:
1. Saute garlic and shallots in olive oil. Add berries and cook for 1-2 minutes. Deglaze with the vinegar.
2. Place mixture in blender and add sugar, mint, salt and pepper. Slow add canola oil. Strain and adjust seasoning.
Prepare the salad:
1. Toss arugula, walnuts, duck confit and vinaigrette with salt and pepper.
2. Plate and place sliced duck breast on salad. Top with the Parmesan.
Cadaretta Wines 2008 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $35
582 cases produced, 14.8% alcohol
For generations, the Middleton family has operated a large-scale forestry operation based in Hoquiam, Wash., with service along the West Coast.
They appear to be in the Washington wine industry for the long haul, too.
In 2005, they launched their Walla Walla winery, naming it after their lumber schooner that was conscripted into service during World War II.
They also are partners in the Artifex Wine Co., with Norm McKibben of Seven Hills Vineyard and continue to develop a 150-acre vineyard nearby.
The Middleton Family Wines labels in Washington -- Buried Cane and Cadaretta -- are made by Larry Cherubino and Brian Rudin. (The Middletons also own vineyards and Clayhouse Wines in Paso Robles, Calif., which they created in the 1990s.)
Rick Middleton Jr., made a serious start by hiring rising star Virginie Bourgue as Cadaretta's first winemaker, and she also helped with the early plantings before leaving to launch her own label.
Their young Southwind Vineyard -- first planted in 2008 -- is coming on line, so they turned to Pepper Bridge and the highly regarded StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope for this berry, juicy Syrah.
Rather than deliver a jammy and voluptuous blackberry bomb, Cadaretta's third vintage of Syrah leans toward a theme of Marionberry and dark black cherry, loaded with allspice, vanilla bean and Cabretta golf glove leather.
Skillful use of 100 percent French oak, most of it new, did nothing to rob the fruit. And the wine shows delicious balance with acidity leading the away as the tannins sit in the background like a pair of well-worn cotton pajamas.
And the Middletons rapidly established a reputation with their Washington portfolio for Syrah. The Buried Cane 2007 Syrah ($15) earned a rare Double Platinum and was voted the Best Syrah in Wine Press Northwest's 2010 year-end Platinum Judging.
Cadaretta Wines, 1102 Dell Avenue, Suite B, Walla Walla, WA, 99632, 509-525-1352, cadaretta.com
Dunham Cellars 2009 Lewis Estate Vineyard Riesling, $20
1,137 cases produced, 12.4% alcohol
This wine serves as a remarkable example of how a young winemaker and a new vineyard can grow together to make each other stand out.
In 1999, Eric Dunham got in virtually on the ground floor of Lewis Vineyard as Ken, Betty and Ken Lewis Jr. planted it just the year before.
Their 80-acre vineyard near Prosser has the advantage of 1,200 feet elevation in the Rattlesnake Hills and produces stunning results with red and white wines.
Now, about half of the Lewis Vineyard fruit goes to Dunham Cellars, which received Wine Press Northwest's Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year award in 2008.
Over the years, multiple vintages of Lewis Vineyard Syrah have earned Platinum awards in Wine Press Northwest's best-of-the-best competition. This fall, the 2008 Lewis Estate Vineyard Riesling was just the latest Dunham wine to earn a Platinum.
And that Riesling would indicate a smooth transition at Dunham Cellars. During the winter of 2008, Dan Wampfler left Ste. Michelle Wine Estate's winemaking team at Columbia Crest to spearhead the efforts at Dunham Cellars. The arrival of the Michigan State grad frees up Eric Dunham to serve as the director of winemaking.
The popularity of their house style, and the variety in general, prompted the Dunhams to double their production of Riesling for the 2009 vintage.
Judging by the success of this pairing, this current vintage might be showing even better with a bit more acidity. It's built and labeled as an off-dry Riesling with its residual sugar hovering just above 2 percent.
The rich mouth feel and level of sweetness, held up by just enough acidity, makes it an ideal pairing partner for spicy fare with Asian or Spanish influences. It brings a tremendous amount of orchard fruit from beginning to end, featuring aromas and flavors of pear butter and baked apple turnover, backed by jasmine, honeysuckle and just a bit of petrol.
Dunham Cellars, 150 E. Boeing Ave., Walla Walla, WA, 99362, 509-529-4685, www.dunhamcellars.com
Eric Degerman is Wine Press Northwest's managing editor. Have a suggestion for a future Match Maker? E-mail him at email@example.com.