Last Saturday afternoon, Brewery Ommegang of Cooperstown, N.Y., hosted the first in their series of beer-and-food pairing “Hop Chef” competitions at the Atlas Theater. Sound heavenly? It was. Out of seven local hopefuls, top honors were awarded to Jeff Eng of Clyde’s of Tower Oaks in Rockville, based on scores from a panel of local foodie and beerie judges (including yours truly). Will Artley of Pizzeria Orso in Falls Church won over the hearts and tongues of more than 150 attendees for the People’s Choice award.
Find details and mouth-watering pictures after the jump.
The competition was the brainchild of regional Duvel Moortgat USA (the company that owns Ommegang, along with Belgian brands D’Achouffe, Leifmans and Maredsous) market manager Steven Cardello. He organized the event with the help of Ommegang’s dedicated beer sommelier Kate Stamps and newly named “Culinary Ambassador” Teddy Folkman of Granville Moore’s. If titles like these aren’t a clear indication of how serious Ommegang is about beer and food, perhaps the brewery’s satellite food pairing website will convince you. It should be no surprise, then, that the impressive lineup of chefs and their pairings made it difficult for anyone to choose a winner. But we did.
1st Place—Jeff Eng’s Asian-inspired “surf and turf,” a complex uni and beer-braised oxtail roe paired with Hennepin Saison, impressed the judges with a beautiful array of colors, flavors and textures and its interaction with the dry, effervescent ale.
2nd Place—Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar prepared bacon barbecued oysters cooked and paired with Three Philosophers, a strong, dark ale made with cherries. This tasty combination missed the top spot by only one point and was several judges’ favorite dish.
3rd Place—Bibiana‘s Nicholas Stefanelli presented smoked potato gnocchi with Sicilian-style pork ragu paired with Rare Vos, Ommegang’s spiced amber ale. The richness of the gnocchi and sauce balanced well with the beer’s mellow bread and pepper flavors.
1st Place—Will Artley wowed just about everyone with a lavender and vanilla crème brûlée topped with “roe” made from Ommegang Witte. Taken alone each part was good, but not mind-blowing. It was when the flan, roe, and Belgian-style wheat ale all came together that the magic happened. Artley’s winning combination was sommelier Stamps’ and Ommegang head brewer Mike McManus‘ top pick as well.
2nd Place—Mark Morocco of Magnolias at the Mill in Purcellville, Va., brought out the big guns. It was no surprise his pheasant and foie gras ravioli with cherry puree and Three Philosophers consomme paired with the same cherry ale was a crowd-pleaser. He also served a surf and turf slider with roast waygu strip loin and lobster salad.
3rd Place—Stefanelli took the bronze medal in both categories. The judges enjoyed the smoked gnocchi, but the public praise could have been for his Witte Arincini or the complete package of well-planned dishes and the beers he cooked and paired them with.
Despite not breaking either top three list, Bradley Walker of Boundary Road and Michael Bonk of Sonoma each had a strong showing. Walker made a smoked pork leg and ramp spatzle with turnips and dandelion greens. The meat’s sweetness and noodle dish’s creaminess mirrored the malty, heavy Three Philosophers ale it was paired with.
Bonk’s refreshingly simple bite, a hamachi crudo and strawberry harissa with candied orange peel and micro cilantro, went well with the subtle flavors and mouthfeel of Ommegang’s Witte.
Each chef prepared two pairing dishes for the public but submitted just one for judging. The panel of judges included Belga Café chef and owner Bart Vandaele; Birch & Barley, ChurchKey and all things Neighborhood Restaurant Group beer director Greg Engert; Right Proper Brewpub founder and former Brasserie Beck manager Thor Cheston; Washington Post Food Editor Bonnie S. Benwick; “Foodie and the Beast” co-host Nycci Nellis; Saveur food editor Ben Mims; Washington City Paper beer writer Tammy Tuck (that’s me); and Share Our Strength Mid-Atlantic culinary events director Emily Byram, who received part of the event’s proceeds on behalf of the childhood hunger fighting nonprofit.
Boozey bragging rights aren’t the only thing Eng gets out of the new title. He now moves on to compete against winners from other cities for the Grand Hop Chef championship at Ommegang’s Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival in August. Let’s hope he wins. Better yet, let’s hope the chefs introduce some of these pairings at their restaurants.
Photos by Tammy Tuck