Joane Garcia-Colson is a recovering attorney—her words—turned chef who owns the much-loved Dish Creative Cuisine in Palm Springs.
She’s always had a passion for food and service, and says she played “restaurant” with her cousin when she was a kid.
Local foodies know Garcia-Colson opened Dish several years ago in a humble Cathedral City strip mall (of course, humble strip malls are where the best food can often be found!) before upgrading to bigger digs early last year in the Uptown Design District.
Not all chefs understand the dance between food and wine—which is why far too many restaurants offer wine lists with little more than grocery-store favorites. Garcia-Colson, however, takes her wine seriously: She loves wine and has tasted every wine she serves in her restaurant.
We chatted in the lovely, intimate Chef’s Room—which boasts Dish’s cellar and a view of the kitchen—while we enjoyed sips of the new AM/FM Chardonnay.
How did you get your start in wine?
I got into wine in relation to food. I didn’t really start drinking wine until my last year in law school, 1989. That is when I went on the wine-and-dine interview circuit while I was getting recruited by law firms in Chicago, New York and other places. On that interview circuit, I really got exposed to red wine. Then, of course, (I learned more) during culinary school. It’s been an adventure over years. Now I’m really into good wine!
How do you select the wines to serve in the restaurant?
I always try to have in mind: “How is this going to fit with our current wine list? Is this a product I think our guests would enjoy? Can we pair it with our existing menu?” It’s really important to me to taste every wine. When someone asks me, “What’s your favorite?” or, “What wine would you drink with this?” I want to speak to them from a place of knowledge. The other thing I try to do is bring in wines that have a small retail presence. I don’t like to bring a bunch of wines on my list that guests can go down to Ralph’s and buy. We do have a few of those, because you have to carry some standards people are familiar with, but I really try to look for interesting small-production, boutique wines so that when guests come here, they can try something new and different, and get exposed to something new and different.
I think that is part of our role, our obligation, as a restaurant—to give people a different experience than they are going to have at home. Why go out if you can make it at home? I feel the same way about wine, and that’s another reason we serve 90 percent of our wine list by the glass—virtually everything we have is available by the glass. We have created a reserve list for more high-end wine.
Do you ever taste a wine and reverse-engineer—in other words, think about making a new dish to pair with it?
Oh yes, I have done that. I am open.
What is your advice to wine-drinking novices?
People shouldn’t be afraid of wine. A lot of people are afraid of wine. They are afraid to taste; they are afraid to try because they fear they don’t know enough. Be adventurous! Go to a place where you can try things, because you just don’t know how it’s going to hit your palate until you taste it. If you can go to a wine-tasting event, go to one—that is how you learn.
Did you entertain a lot at home before Dish?
Oh yeah. I loved having people over—dinner parties, cocktail parties, etc. I love setting the table and making delicious food. In my family, over the holidays, I’ve always been in charge of the food. I’m an introvert, so I’d rather be in the kitchen cooking. My wife and I formed a little supper club, four or five couples. The hosting couple would make the main dish, and the other couples would bring the side dishes. It was awesome!
What inspired you to open your own place?
A moment of temporary insanity. (Laughs.) When I went to culinary school, I didn’t have any intention of opening a restaurant, but when I weighed my options after I graduated, I realized I wanted to do something on my own. I want to create my own food; I don’t want to cook somebody else’s. I want to have that control. This is sort of my last hurrah. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say, “What if?” Also, I’ll tell you my son (Stefan, a filmmaker in Los Angeles) in a lot of ways is my role model, because he has always marched to his own drumbeat; he’s very creative and talented, and he has always wanted to be his own boss and do his own thing. He has been self-employed since he left college. I so admired in him that he chose a path where he was true to himself, and he could follow his passion and use his creativity and find a way to make a living from it. I said, “You know, maybe I ought to do that.”
What are the challenges of selling wine?
Providing customers with an experience with wine that is positive and educational for them. We’re not afraid to suggest wines we like to customers and give them a taste and be honest about our preferences. People get really used to what they like, and if you don’t have it, sometimes, they get pissed off. There is no way possible that you can carry everything, so the challenge is introducing guests to something different and new that they might not have experienced.
I get to taste a lot of wine! (Laughs.) That’s one of the perks of the job. Another reward is that there is nothing that feels better than when a guest thanks you for giving them a wonderful experience. That feels really good and gratifying—when someone gets what you are trying to do and appreciates you for it.
What’s are you drinking right now?
We are really enjoying Daou cabernet (and) also the Paloma merlot. It’s a gorgeous wine. I’ve become very fond of Emmolo merlot—and the Pessimist, also by Daou. My palate really tends toward Paso Robles, so I love Justin, Daou and Sextant. Those are some big ones. And Peju!
What are you loving on your list right now?
We have the Daou on our wine list; we also have the Emmolo. I really love our merlots, and I want people to be more adventurous with them. We have a great selection.
I like pairing sparkling with things. I think it’s fun to do whites with seafood, and it’s really fun to pair wine with salads. The last wine dinner we did, I made a grapefruit, avocado and crab salad that is on our menu now. We paired it with Truth and Valor chardonnay. Delicious!
Desert island wine?
It would definitely be a cabernet or a blend—something really rich. It might be the Emmolo, actually. I’m loving that one.
Favorite wine book?
It’s a book I often recommend to people: The Flavor Bible. It’ll tell you about wine pairings, too.
Where do you like to go out in the desert?
In Palm Springs, I tend to go Johannes and Copley’s. I also enjoy Le Vallauris.
Favorite thing to do besides drink wine and cook?
I like to read.
Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at email@example.com.