It is still taken, practically as a shibboleth, that the beverage pairings at a Michelin-starred restaurant will be almost exclusively wine. But a growing contingent of chefs and restaurants are looking beyond the grape, to grain, and to the expansive world of beer, as the drink most able to compliment their food.
One of the leaders in this movement is chef Daniel Burns, whose Brooklyn restaurant, Luksus, has forgone wine entirely, not just as a pairing option, but as a menu option as well. “What we’re trying to do here,” says chef Burns, “is bring beer into the conversation of fine dining.” The beer pairings at Luksus not only hold up their end of the conversation; they move it in provocative and unexpected directions.
“We have an incredibly large range of beers to work with,” says Joey Pepper, Luksus’ beer manager, and, indeed, the range of beers on offer at Tørst (the beer-only bar that shares the space) and Luksus set into relief what a narrow slice of the flavour spectrum the typical pilsner-to-porter assortment at most bars and restaurants represents. From puckery, fruit-forward, naturally fermented Lambic beers like Drie Fonteinen Intense Red, to weighty, boozy brews with outré ingredients, like the doughnuts and coffee in Evil Twin Brewery’s Imperial Doughnut Break porter, it quickly becomes apparent that whatever Burns puts on a plate, Pepper can match.
When creating a pairing, Pepper often begins by matching the relative “intensity” of a dish with similarly assertive beers. After that, he says, his goal is to “identify what’s going on in the dish—for instance, is there a ton of acid, or is there bitterness from a dandelion salad going on? We then try to get four or five options to taste with the dish. Usually, there’s a clear winner.”
Those winners can sometimes veer off in interesting, and sometimes unexpected directions.“People can be surprised when we go with a very contrasting beer—one that’s almost in a duel with the dish,” says Burns. More often, though, the goal in a pairing is harmony, and even discovery. “A good example now,” he continues, “is we have a carrot dessert with yogurt, tarragon and all kinds of things going on. There’s also a cumin cookie element. So, what about if the beer just picks up the notes of the cumin—it’s a small, minor element of the composed dish, and maybe the beer speaks to that?”
Prior to opening Lukus just over two years ago, Burns headed up the culinary “lab” for David Chang’s Momofuku empire. Before that, he was a chef de partie in the pastry department at the Fat Duck, England, and for three years, the pastry chef of Noma in Denmark. All were famous for challenging aspects of fine dining orthodoxy, a tradition that Burns seems happy to continue, beer in hand.
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