I attended a beer dinner the other night. It has taken me a few days to digest (pun intended) exactly what happened. This was a fundraiser for Morrison Children and Family Services in Portland. A description of their services follows.
The event was deemed “Chef’s Challenge” in that seven of Portland’s finest chefs would combine their talents to pair their dishes with Deschutes’ beers in a very friendly competition. I was lucky enough to be one of the judges of this august contest, at least I thought.
Along with me as judge was John Foyston, noted retiring beer columnist for the Oregonian; Cole Danehower, of Northwest Palate Magazine; Amy Faust, of The Wolf 99.7 FM; and Alan Kropf, of Mutineer Magazine.
The evening started off innocently enough with a trio of appetizers from Deschutes Brewery’s own Chef Jeff Usinowicz, who made Cortes Island Oysters on the half shell with a hop infused ponzu sauce, quail egg yolk, and tabiko caviar and the first, Ale Pretzel with a warm chantrelle mushroom taleggio cheese sauce for the second and a hop and lime marinated wild gulf prawn with a mango glaze. All paired with Cascade Ale. This was a delightful way to begin and a great palate conditioner. Then things began to get serious.
Chef Pascal Chureau of Fenouil prepared a Rabbit Loin Crepinette with Chantrelles Faro Risotto, Bone Marrow Butter and Maple Syrup and Bourbon Gastrique paired with Miss Spelt Hefeweizen. Everything went very quiet at the judges table. We all agreed that whatever the flavor of Bone Marrow Butter actually was, it was a huge hit and the only criticism was there should have been more of it on the dish. Admittedly, I was not excited about the pairing on this one at first. But after trying it the pairing was done brilliantly! The esters of the yeast and husky graininess of the spelt knitted perfectly with the rabbit and even the marrow butter. We were off and running for sure.
Next, Chef Adam Berger from our neighbor Ten 01 paired our D Straat Dubel with House made duck and hazelnut sausage with cranberries. This was done in a much more Germanic preparation, but, again, a brilliant pairing. The sausage was laid on a bed of cooked red cabbage with cranberries on the side. The sausage was sprinkled with crushed hazelnuts and tangy salt. The fruity sweetness of the Dubel worked its way into the tanginess of the cabbage – no doubt cooked with vinegar - and the sweet tanginess of the cranberries with the soft gaminess of the duck sausage and, finally, the salty, nutty hazelnuts all touched every sensory gland in my mouth. I was beginning to sense this event was, truly, something special.
Next came Chef Paul Bachand from Farm to Fork prepared a Smoked Trout, Leek and Potato Mason Jar Pie, with Fresh Herb and Winter Radish Salad. Going in I didn’t know what a Mason Jar Pie was, but I sure learned. Resembling a Pot Pie, it was comfort food on steroids. Soft, warm and savory with the smokiness of the trout, the pie was accompanied by an herb (mostly frisee) and winter radish salad. Taken all together it paired (again) brilliantly with the Long Shadow Black IPA, contrasting perfectly with the beers bright herbal hoppiness and the roasted astringency of the malt it was another of many surprises for me that evening. I think it was at this point that John Foyston turned to me and said, “We are so screwed!” Of course referring to the inevitable judgment we would be required to make.
The next course was from Chef Kurt Spak of Alba Osteria. He paired Jubelale with Agnolotti al Plin with Oregon Black Truffles. This turned out to be my favorite of the dishes that evening. Of course, it’s wonderful to do a dinner in truffle season. The soft, rich agnolotti and the rich earthiness of the truffles paired seamlessly with the malty, hoppy Jubelale . It was game-on now as Amy turned to the rest of us with a wistful look and said, “I didn’t think I had any love left!” That pretty much summed up what the rest of us were feeling as well. But our work was far from done. The amount of love we all carried would be sorely tested for sure!
Our final “dinner” course was Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana who paired Obsidian Stout with Cauliflower Sformato with Oregon Black Truffles. This is where we all went into a bit of sensory overload. Rich, creamy cauliflower pudding covered in cheese sauce with generous slices of truffle all over. My kind of food. Cathy outdid herself with this one! What can I say about the pairing except, perfection. Simple, humble, perfection.
Finally, it was time for dessert. This dish prepared by our own Pastry Chef Jill Ramseier who made a bevy of delights entitled, Sweet & Salty Peanut Butter Bon Bons with Root beer Meringue. These “bon-bons” were two and quite different. One traditional bon bon and one of peanut butter ice cream. The Root beer Meringue had everyone mesmerized and they worked around the chocolate butterfly Jill made to wow the crowd with her presentation. All this paired with, what else? The Abyss. Unbelievable!
Afterward, the judges awarded Chef Spak’s agnolotti first prize while the audience favorite was Chef Bachand’s Mason Jar Pie. In private conversations John Foyston and I agreed that after attending hundreds of beer dinners over our careers (and some very, very good ones) this may have been the best one ever. If you were there you will know what I mean. If you missed it, well, you really missed it. We will look forward to doing more as we continue to push the envelope. Records are meant to be broken, after all. Watch our website for announcements of coming events. You will want to make the next one for sure!
Morrison Child and Family Services provides a comprehensive range of mental health, substance abuse, juvenile justice, and prevention services. Each year we touch the lives of more than 5,000 children and their families who are struggling with physical and sexual abuse, neglect, exposure to drugs and alcohol, learning disabilities, depression, and serious emotional trauma. Our programs include residential, day treatment, outpatient counseling, parent education, home and school-based programs, and foster care.