By Chef Sarah, PL&C’s Madame Chocolat
There are very few things in this world that everyone likes. (Spoiler alert: one of them is chocolate.) The other two are 1) beer and 2) food. As a new member of Sterling Rice Group‘s Culinary Council, I was invited to their aptly named Beer & Food Course. Needless to say, when I got the invite, I scrambled frantically to find the HECK-YES-RIGHT-NOW button.
The Beer & Food Course was a one-day crash course inspired by a new five-day intensive co-sponsored by the Brewers Association (BA) and CraftBeer.com. Normally, the five-day intensive is, well, super-intense: it begins with the history of beer and ends with an exam. It’s targeted for chefs, retailers, and others in the industry to help guide us in creating “harmonious combinations atop the plates, in the dining room, and ultimately on the palates and in the memories of guests.” Lucky for us, we got to experience the highlights of the intensive without the stress of a week away from work — or an exam.
Julia has worked extensively with PL&C’s friend and colleague, Dr. Nicole Garneau, geneticist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Dr. Nicole is such a crazy fan of craft beer, and the scientist in her was driven nuts by chefs and others who just winged it with pairings and illustrative words that may have been entertaining, but had no bearing in science.
Dr. Nicole, Julia and Adam set out to quantify and qualify the information that should be passed on to the end-consumers about craft beer, and they figured the best vehicle for that is us chefs and chef instructors, as well as the retailers who are selling the stuff. Let me tell you, this class is for real foodies who know food and craft beer!
In the beginning of class, there was an extensive and fascinating discussion about the phenols and esters — the very taste molecules in beer and food — and why it’s important to keep them in mind when pairing the two. The science nerd in me totally geeked out on this part!
After a brief history of the beer-making processes, we dove right into sampling five different styles of craft beer (fun fact: the BA has identified over 140 unique styles!) and we were asked what we’d pair with each of the beers. As with most group settings, everyone was a little quiet in the beginning, but once the beer started flowing, it got a little nutty and even more fun!
I had the privilege of sipping alongside some of Colorado’s top culinary names, like Chef Laurent Mechin of the St. Julien, and Chef Jorge de la Torre, the Dean of Culinary Studies at Johnson and Wales University in Denver, just to name a few. There were also culinary instructors from both of the CIA campuses. It made me realize that what Jeff Mendel, Beer Ambassador of Left Hand Brewing and co-founder of Sapere Aude, and I have been doing with our Craft Beer & Chocolate Desserts Pairing classes has not only been cutting-edge, it’s also put us on the map for what we’ve been doing on the food scene. (High five, Jeff!)
In this segment, we learned a lot about proper beer glassware. Another fun (or not-so-fun) fact: the ol’ pint glass we’re all familiar with? It’s the worst kind of glass to serve any kind of beer in!
During our lunch break, we had the opportunity to network and chat with each other about what we’re all doing with beer and food. It was so fascinating to compare notes, experiences, and stories! After lunch, we tried five more styles of beer while brainstorming what we’d pair with those beers.
Then the madness began! We were split into four groups, and each group was assigned a beer and food pairing. My teammates were Chef Laurent mentioned above, and Chef Elizabeth Buckingham, CPC and owner of Moveable Feast Colorado. (Hi, chefs!)
Each group chose a protein; our choices were a gorgeous bone-in pork shoulder, a perfectly marbled rib-eye that must’ve weighed eight pounds, sea scallops the size of your palm, and bright red sockeye salmon fillets. We also had a mountain of fresh ingredients to choose from: vegetables, fruits, herbs, etc., as well as the top-of-the-line, well-equipped kitchen of Sterling Rice.
My teammates and I got stuck with the salmon because we were last to choose, but we were not daunted! (I mean, come on. Those sexier pieces of meat? You could’ve cooked them in a dishwasher and they’d’ve come out great.)
Then each group was given a beer that we’d earlier tasted, judged and dream-paired. My team’s beer was the Titan IPA, an American India Pale Ale crafted by Great Divide in Denver. It’s floral, fruity, citrusy, and a little piney, with a rich, malty sweetness, and an ABV of 7.1 percent.
This is when our competitive natures surfaced! We had one hour (!) to present our dish, and Julia was egging us on with her, “Hey people! Pretend this is Top friggin’ Chef, already!” Imagine 23 chefs in one kitchen, a little drunk, and on a timer! It was total Kitchen-Stadium pandemonium at the corner of Walnut and 13th!
After a quick team mind-meld, we decided to grill the fish and serve it with a grilled veggie salsa and polenta. I stealthily hoarded the cream, butter, and sugar — the ingredients I was most familiar with. Elizabeth worked on the polenta, using chicken broth, butter, and reduced cream. Laurent had me chop and caramelize the onions, “but not too far, we don’t want sweet,” he said in his thick French accent. I secretly disagreed — I thought we needed a little sweet, so I put half of our bottle of Titan on to reduce for a sauce (très sneaky!).
Chef Laurent asked us to throw some radicchio and corn on the grill, as well. Elizabeth assumed the role of sous chef, and I the saucier, as well as our team’s undercover operative to spy on the other teams. When Chef Jorge’s team put some bacon on to render, Chef Laurent grabbed a couple of strips — along with some asparagus — and wrapped our fillets into bundles and put them on the grill. Nice stealth move, Chef Laurent!
When the onions were done, Chef Laurent finished off our salsa. Remembering my sweet Titan reduction, I deglazed the remaining onions with the reduction and added copious amounts of butter for a beer beurre blanc, of sorts. Still tasting a little hollow even after salt and pepper, I added sugar, and voila! Chefs Laurent and Elizabeth approved with big smiles.
At the end of our hour, we had a magnificent dish of bacon-wrapped grilled sockeye salmon and asparagus on a bed of rich and creamy polenta, surrounded by a smokey-sweet salsa of grilled corn, radicchio, garlic, and onions on a liberal dollop of beer beurre blanc. And did it pair well with the Titan IPA? Two words: NAILED IT!
The day ended with a stroll over to the BA’s new digs on Spruce, where we had a lesson on the proper pouring and storage of beers. Afterward, a group of us rounded out the evening at PL&C with beer truffles and Left hand Milk Stout Cake. A delicious end to a delicious day!
“Highly recommended” is an understatement for how I feel about this class. Craft beer is an integral part of the food service industry — especially in our neck of the woods — and any chef venturing into beer and food pairing would benefit hugely from this hands-on class. The BA has acted as an invaluable source of information and guidance in its creation, and their very own Julia Herz has put her heart and soul into making the class a truly invaluable experience. I’d like to give A HUGE THANK YOU to the teams at Sterling Rice, the Brewers Association and CraftBeer.com for making this special day educational, fun, valuable, and exciting. Our (chef’s) hats off to all of you!
Want to learn more about the Beer & Food Course? Check out the website here.