If you’ve never thought to enjoy your favorite blue cheese with a stout, or a plate of braised lamb with a raspberry lambic, then you haven’t yet met Chef Andrew Gerson.
Gerson always knew he wanted to follow his passion for cooking, but the typical restaurant route wasn’t for him. After completing his studies at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, Gerson came back to the U.S. and eventually made his way to Brooklyn, where he’d help launch Antica Pesa Williamsburg. He became Head of Culinary Programming at Brooklyn Brewery in 2013, working alongside Brewmaster Garrett Oliver, a leading voice on food and beer. Now, Andrew spends endless nights across the country (and world) for the brewery’s Mash Tour, a nine-city traveling arts and culture festival that began this year in London and ended in New Orleans.
The Beer Necessities recently linked up with Gerson on his home turf in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a neighborhood globally renowned for artisanal goods, where quality craft beers are as common as hipster beards and glorious street art. Andrew took us on a belly-bursting beer crawl of his favorite local spots to get a first hand taste of what keeps his appetite bubbling, and the lowdown on the art of pairing food with beer.
width:800 align:center credits:"Brittany Purlee"
TBN: Given the endless options available to you as BK Brewery’s head chef, how did you choose which beers to pair with which food on the Mash Tour?
AG: As beer is extremely versatile, there is a lot of wiggle room when pairing it with food. Most of the dinners we serve are more of a ‘choose your own adventure style,’ so as to demonstrate that versatility. Rather than saying ‘this specific beer is paired with this specific course,’ we’re letting our audience pick and choose from an array of big bottles on the table so they can experiment for themselves. We do spend a lot of time creating dishes and selecting beers that harmonize, cut, and contrast one another in an attempt to create new memorable dining experiences.
Have you found that people are more open to that approach nowadays?
I think there’s been a dynamic shift in people’s palates and also an increased appreciation for beer at the table. People are more adventurous these days: they are willing to try a tuna crudo with a sour, or a Belgian ale with a dry aged beef tartare. Whereas in years past, more people might have doubted a beer’s ability to pair with more elevated dishes.
We will drink and eat anything you give us. Anything. What will you serve?
There is so much flexibility! I really like to show diverse dishes. I’ll serve a really simple, light vegetable dish alongside a really hearty meat dish, and show how the beer complements both dishes for completely different reasons. For example, a sour with a raspberry base, like a framboise, is going to cut through a really rich lamb dish, accentuate the earthy funk of a roasted mushroom dish, or complement the light acidity and umami richness of a miso lemon vinaigrette on a kale salad. I think, rather than attempting to discover the ‘perfect pairing,’ it’s most important to explore versatility when pairing beer with food.
Those pairings you just mentioned sound irresistible. Are there any other specific pairings you’ve done that really stand out?
One of my favorites is a stout paired with blue cheese. You can use various cheeses like gorgonzola dolce; Neal's Yard Colston Bassett Stilton is also really amazing. Blue cheese and stout is not a pairing that would strike you as something that works -- yet they just harmonize incredibly and create a completely distinct flavor that is awesome. The goal of any pairing should be to take two elements and create something greater than the sum of their parts.
Speaking of unlikely pairings, what is the most peculiar beer you have worked with?
I’m not a fan of licorice, but we just did a triple Belgian brewed with licorice root, and I paired it with a whole roasted pig. It was incredible. Another surprising ingredient to pair with beer is uni. Uni works really nicely with a Saison. You get these light crisp aromatic flavors from the beer that is nuanced enough to not overpower the delicacy of the urchin, but it picks up on the sweetness and allows the briny nature to come through. High levels of effervescence elevate the subtle seafood notes, while cutting through the decadent richness of urchin. Saison and oysters are amazing as well.
On the flip side, are there any common challenges you run into when pairing beer with food?
I honestly don’t find that many challenges. I find pairing food with beer relatively easy. The greater challenge is changing people’s notions of beer’s ability to pair with food. As much as I think the palate has changed and evolved, beer is still looking for its place at the dinner table, specifically in the fine dining realm. Getting guests to come out to experience these things is a challenge. Although once they do, they get it and they’re hooked. You do see places where beer is shining, but few fine dining, high-end restaurants are as dedicated to their beer lists as to their wine or liquor lists. So I hope that we can bring beer back to its rightful place.
Stay tuned for upcoming 2017 Brooklyn Brewery Dinner Party dates and other events throughout the world by following @BKLYNHouseChef and @BrooklynBrewery on Twitter.