Delco Profile: Irene Moretti, Tavola’s Bar Chef and Sommelier

We all know what a sommelier is — a wine pro specializing in all aspects of wine service and food pairing — but, a bar chef? A bar chef brings kitchen techniques to the art of mixology. Doing so creates different flavor profiles for cocktails that are unique and can stand on their own, while also complementing the restaurant’s cuisine. 

That’s what makes Irene Moretti, the bar chef and sommelier at Tavola at the Springfield Country Club, stand head and shoulders above the rest. She’s been with Springfield Country Club since 2005 in a number of capacities because she “has always felt comfortable at Springfield, has great friends and it feels like family. Plus I have creative freedom, my own on-site garden, and a brand-new greenhouse.”

We spent a few minutes with Irene to learn about her love for the industry, her favorite wine and cocktail recommendations, and that Chopped award!

Visit Delco, PA: You have a poli-sci degree from Rosemont University — how did you get into the wine/beverage/restaurant industry?

Irene Moretti: I’ve always had a passion for food and beverage and the business behind it. I opened a catering business shortly after I graduated from Rosemont, which I had for 12 years until the birth of my daughter.

How did you transition to sommelier and bar chef?

I’ve been in the kitchen since I can remember, and my catering business taught me that I was good under pressure in the kitchen, good with large-scale cooking, and good “on the fly” with food and party planning. I also spent three years studying wine at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia.

What’s your favorite part about being a sommelier?

Introducing people, whether it be a stranger or a close friend, to a great wine that I find, or a great region of wine.

I also really enjoy the constant study of wine and the academics of studying the region; the terroir. Studying the evolution of the wine, literally from the dirt, to the vine, to the development of the grape, and what in nature makes a wine a great wine, are fascinating subjects for me. 

So many times we, as diners, get “stuck” with, or defer to, a favorite. What top tips would you give to customers who are looking to pair wine with food? 

Keep it basic, but don’t be afraid to be adventurous!

Enjoy light bites with lightweight wines, such as whites and light-bodied reds. But don’t forget the sparkling: prosecco, cava (Spanish sparkling) and rosé. 

Pair an appetizer course of light bites with a sparkling rosé, a Riesling (white wine) or a pinot noir. For the pasta courses, consider chianti, beaujolais (with red sauces), sauvignon blancs, pinot grigio and moscato (with white sauces). Keep heavier courses like entrees with heavier wines, like cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, grenache (a delightful red Spanish grape), full-bodied Champagne, like Veuve Clicquot or Moët (or Dom Pérignon, if you can splurge). During the dessert course try Sauternes, Amarones, red zinfandels and Champagne. 

Because I’m a big Duckhorn Vineyard fan, when I’m dining at Tavola, I pair its sauvignon blanc with white sauces or heavier apps, like shrimp Lajon; Migration Pinot Noir with heartier chicken dishes or a vegetarian dish, like pesto cavatappi; Duckhorn Merlot with filet mignon; and Duckhorn Chardonnay with chicken Italiano. 

How about cocktail and food pairings?

Generally, the heavier the dish, the darker the liquor. If you’re going with a hearty dish, then stick with something like a whiskey or bourbon. If your dish is on the lighter side, then a vodka- or gin-based cocktail would be a better fit. Remember, sweet liqueurs pair very nicely with dessert. 

What’s your favorite current pairing at Tavola?

We do a lot of business on Saturday and Sunday with our hangover cure, which is a pairing of two signatures: Our bloody mary and cheesesteak egg rolls. I also love to recommend our delicious burgers and Avalon Winery Cabernet Sauvignon or Trefethen Double T Red; Decoy Wines Pinot Noir with any one of our salads topped with blackened salmon; Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay and our broccoli pizza or chicken Italiano; Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc with the pesto cavatappi … I could go on and on with this question!

What’s your favorite food to cook at home, and what do you drink with that?

I like hearty chicken dishes, like chicken fricassee with dumplings, chicken and waffles, or coq au vin;. For me, Migration Wine with anything, anytime. 

Tell us about that 2014 Chopped award!

In 2014, 1,500 recipes entered to be considered for the “Best Bloody Mary In America” title. Those entries were reduced to 50 state winners — we won for Pennsylvania! Then the judges voted down to 12 finalists who participated in a live competition with more than 2,000 people in attendance at the New York Wine and Food Festival. We were judged by the Chopped judges according to their own criteria for what they were looking for in a Bloody Mary cocktail. There was also a People’s Choice tasting. It was a stressful weekend, and I brought a suitcase full of my own equipment up to New York. 

I believe I was successful because I knew how to batch a large quantity of ingredients and I was used to volume, because our restaurant does tremendous volume. I also had confidence in my recipe because it was packed with fresh, quality ingredients. Ultimately, it was an awesome success, and I came home with our “Garden Bloody Mary Blend” winning the People’s Choice Award for “Best Bloody Mary in America.” 

What do you do in your spare time?

I garden, cook and listen to music.

What’s one thing you’re willing to share that no one knows about you? 

I do a fight club (box, hit a heavy bag and shadow box) two times a week. Bucket list? I hope to one day drive a tour bus at Graceland in Memphis.

Care to give a nod to your family?

My support system is made up of my husband, Dennis, my daughter, Kiersten, my mother (who was educated in the 1940s when they we not educating women), and my father who valued education and set it as a priority for all of us. And, my four sisters who are always there to give me an honest opinion. Between them and my daughter, I know I can always get the truth. Also my superiors and boss Nancy Steinmetz and Pat Burns who have given me a great deal of creative freedom and have been totally supportive with what I do and are very open to my ideas.

Tavola: 400 W Sproul Rd, Springfield, (610) 543-2100. Open to the public (no club membership required) Monday to Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday for brunch, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for dinner from 2 to 9 p.m. The Tavola bar opens daily at 11 a.m. and serves late-night bites until midnight (or, later!).

Want to know more about everything Delco? We’re more than just your source for good eats — we’re your source for where to stay, what to do and more in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We’re the Visit Delco, PA Tourism Bureau, and we’ve got you covered from Philly to the Brandywine. Find us at 1501 N. Providence Rd., Media, PA, 19063; (610) 565-3679 or online.

Nina Malone

Photos courtesy of Tavola