After a few failed Skype attempts due to a shoddy Internet connection, we finally got a hold of Stephen Satterfield at a bar in the Dominican Republic. The former manager of Nopa restaurant in San Francisco has been spending three months there to write and gear up for Whetstone, a digital publication that will explore food origins and culture around the globe.
“I am transitioning into a career as a writer, and I wanted to be in a place that was somewhat isolated,” he says of the Dominican Republic, not to mention its affordability and its beauty. “Plus, I’d be lying if I said that rum was not one of my considerations when thinking of moving here.” He takes it with a squeeze of lime and a bit of soda or with a splash of whatever juice the bar has fresh.
Writing isn’t exactly new to Satterfield. He edited Nopalize, a site similar to Whetstone but that focused on Nopa’s purveyors. And he’s a poet. But after more than a decade in the food and beverage industry, whether as a sommelier, a restaurant manager or an activist in the nonprofit world, he’s ready to put his entire focus on writing. In addition to Whetstone, he’s part of the first cohort of The Culinary Trust’s food writing fellows; you can see his work about food justice and food systems on Civil Eats through May.
That doesn’t mean he’ll stop drinking, though.
On Owing His Life to Wine
I’ve created a very interesting life for myself, and I owe that entirely to drinking. I drink every day—I am not ashamed to admit that—because it has colored the entire lens through which I look at the world. It’s made me realize the connection between culture and history and geology and geography and community. I owe it all to wine.
On “Mood Pairings”
I’m a seasonal drinker, and I’m a moody drinker. Everyone has this sense of mood pairings, in a way. For instance, a group of divers just came up to the bar where I’m sitting now. They had seen a whale, and they were so stoked they ordered Champagne to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime experience. So for celebration, there’s effervescence. If I don’t have money for Champagne but I still want to get down, I might have a sparkling Vouvray or pétillant—something fun and bubbly. If I’ve had a tough day and I want to be at the edge of the bar by myself, then I might have something that’s heavier or more serious, like a rye Manhattan or a scotch on the rocks if it’s really that real.
(image: Dijon Bowden)
Rum has been been unheralded in this new consciousness that fine-beverage professionals all over the country have helped us realize. Mezcal has had a comment, premium gins have had their moment—all of these spirits have been reimagined and reengaged because of this new bar culture that has emerged—but I still think rum is underappreciated. You can have a cerebral, heady rum with drinking agricole. You can have a natural and totally agreeable rum that can move in any direction like a vodka, but it’s even better. If you’re a bourbon drinker, you can have a rum that’s been aged in oak and has the same richness and power, toastiness and sweetness. It’s wildly versatile, and it’s inexpensive.
I like to serve a cocktail at the beginning of a meal at my house—something that’s dry and neutral and quenches thirst, like a St. George Terroir and tonic. That sets the tone for a night of drinking, which is always what it’s going to be if people are at my house. I don’t like to serve more than one cocktail to start things off, because wine is such an integral part of how I entertain people—I put thought into what the wine is we’re going to have—so I don’t want people to be all muddy by the time there’s some wine for dinner. So we graduate from one cocktail to wine, and that wine varies wildly depending on what we’re eating. I always conclude with spirits, though. I love finishing meals with Calvados, because it’s the perfect amount of fruit and hard alcohol, which settles a full stomach.
On Catching the Bug
Growing up in Atlanta, my best friend’s dad had a formidable wine cellar. He deserves all of the credit for planting the seeds early in my youth for my appreciation of a wine cellar and what that meant. I grew up in a very humble pretty lower-middle-class family where there was not a lot of drinking because there was not a lot of disposable income. When I was on the other side of town, my friend’s dad was a mentor to me. At dinner in their house, he would bust out some wine he had clearly thought a lot about, so even though I didn’t know anything about what we were drinking, I saw the amount of reverence that such a cultured man had for it. I thought, This guy has had so many life experiences and has such impeccable taste; if he’s taking that much care with selecting the wine just for the sake of our meal, then there’s something to that.