Rosé Piscine’s Blake Helppie seems like a very contented man. He loves his job, he loves to cook and, as he says, “our French rosé, Rosé Piscine, the only rosé made specifically to drink with ice, will be available in stores throughout the Hamptons in early June.” Ice is nice. Meet Helppie at Dan’s Rosé Soirée on Memorial Day Weekend (May 28) at the Southampton Arts Center. He’s no wine snob, he sings the praises of our local varietals, saying, “I really enjoy Channing Daughters Winery wines. I love their ability to constantly push the envelope, which has resulted in some truly unique wines—such as their orange wines. I appreciate their playful and experimental approach to their wines.”
What’s your favorite rosé?
Obviously, our own rosé, Rosé Piscine! I first became acquainted with the rosé culture in Saint–Tropez in July 2009, while in Europe for a July wedding. I loved the concept of drinking refreshingly cold rosé on the beach, in the heat of summer. When I met our partners at Vinovalie in South West France, I immediately fell in love with Rosé Piscine because it was specifically made to be served with ice. I worked with my Brazilian business partners to import and launch the brand in Brazil, which was an astounding success. Based on that experience, Vinovalie awarded my company in the U.S. the exclusive importation rights for the Rosé Piscine.
My favorite dish to pair with a fine rosé this season is: fire-roasted octopus
Why should consumers buy local produce and wine?
Local, sustainably grown and harvested food is a great way to ensure clean eating and a great way to support local farmers and local business.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever had to drink?
The bowl of kava [a fermented beverage made from pepper plant roots] that I drank in Vanuatu this past November while on a spearfishing trip in the South Pacific. In fact, kava is so bad that my spearfishing buddy at the kava bar ended up quickly evacuating the contents of his stomach.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever had to drink?
After the U.S. financial crisis, I acquired hundreds of bottles of the world’s best wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy from U.S. collectors for export to, and resale in, Brazil. For me, it was simply an arbitrage play; instead of commodities or equities, the trade involved some of the best wines in the world. At the time, Brazil was riding the commodities super cycle and its currency was massively overvalued. Brazil had a lot of extremely wealthy wine drinkers who didn’t want to wait 20 years to drink a 100–point Petrus or Chateau Lafite. At one point, I discovered that one of the bottles of wine I intended to export to Brazil had a seriously damaged and bin-soiled label. My heart dropped when I discovered that it was one of the two bottles of 100–point 1990 Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache that had been presold to a Brazilian banker in São Paulo, who was a stickler for perfect labels. I ended up taking the bottle to a steakhouse in Birmingham, Michigan (where I lived at the time) and invited two friends. We all agreed that it was the best bottle of wine we ever had. I sometimes wonder if the Brazilian banker regretted his insistence on perfect labels; I doubt he has come across another bottle of this perfect vintage since.
How old were you when you knew that you’d have a career in wine?
As a child, I had very unusual career ideas. I predicted in second grade that the world would have an oversupply of firemen. I therefore decided that I wanted to be the captain of a ship. I did manage to partially fulfill this dream many years later by becoming a ship owner in the Brazilian oil and gas industry when I left Goldman Sachs in Europe. While running the shipping business in Brazil, a family friend asked me to help him with his wine importation and distribution business. I was 30 at the time and just fell in love with the wine industry. At the time, we mainly worked with Chilean and French wines, but expanded our portfolio to include some incredible wines from Italy, Hungary and California.
Unlike finance, shipping and technology, where I had spent a great deal of my adult professional life, I found a contagious passion among the people I met and dealt with in the wine industry. I have always gravitated toward people with a pure and focused passion. I find that many of the folks I meet in the wine industry, from winemakers to importers, are involved in the industry because they are truly passionate about what they do.
What do you have in your kitchen right now that would make another wine or food pro jealous?
My sourdough starter! I’m a huge fan of Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco and his naturally leavened sourdough bread method —“Country Bread.” Chad spent years rediscovering the way that bread was made with natural leaven 200 years ago in France.
The sourdough starter in my kitchen has been going for almost a year. I have shared it with countless friends and family members, who maintain and use the starter, should mine happen to die out over the course of a long trip. Using my sourdough starter, a Dutch oven to mimic the effects of a steam injection oven, and Chad’s method I can make the best bread you’ve ever tasted! When I travel from Miami to my house in East Hampton, I often bring my sourdough starter with me, which profoundly confuses the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
What skill or concept have you learned recently that you’re eager to use in your work?
I’ve recently come to appreciate the role of professional-grade photography and Photoshop on Instagram. I leave the Rosé Piscine Instagram account in the very competent hands of Stephanie Kay Meyer, our branding director. However, I’m eager to use my new SLR camera and Photoshop to create some eye-catching Instagram content around the Rosé Piscine brand.
Is fine dining dying or just going through a transformation?
While I was the CEO of talentReef, the leading HR software platform for the restaurant and retail industries, I would rub shoulders on a weekly basis with most of the top executives in the U.S. restaurant industry. My conclusion, based on many conversations, is that fine dining is already dead. That being said, I still feel that there’s a place for it in our culture, even if it’s no longer mainstream and often no longer financially viable.
I could create a fine meal with just these five ingredients: beef tenderloin, fresh rosemary, sea salt, butter and asparagus. While I love grilling as much as the next guy, I have found an amazing way to prepare beef tenderloin. I start with an extremely hot cast iron skillet, to which I add a bit of olive oil (or butter, if I’m limited to five ingredients). I sear the sea salt rubbed steaks (a pepper rub is great in addition to the sea salt) 90 to 120 seconds per side. I then throw in the chopped fresh rosemary and a bit more butter before placing the skillet in a 500° F oven for 3-4 minutes. For the asparagus I would quickly blanch and then sauté in butter and sea salt.
What’s your favorite part about interacting with fellow food pros—or patrons—at Dan’s Taste of Summer events?
Much like I learned to cook and bake by observing my mother in the kitchen, I love to watch pros ply their trade in the kitchen…and then I pepper them with questions when I see them next.
Find the latest info on all of Dan’s Taste of Summer events this summer—Dan’s Rosé Soirée, the official kickoff event of summer in the Hamptons on Memorial Day Weekend (May 28); the new Dan’s Corona MonTaco presented by Don Julio, a Mexican-themed fiesta at Gurney’s Montauk on July 7; Dan’s ClambakeMTK at Gurney’s Montauk, back for its second summer on July 8; Dan’s GrillHampton (July 21), celebrating its 5th anniversary; and Dan’s Taste of Two Forks presented by Farrell Building Company (July 22), now in its 7th year—at DansTasteofSummer.com.