There really is no better pairing than beer and food, so when Brewery Ommegang (that very Belgian of American craft breweries) expanded its list of cities for its annual HopChef competition to include Miami, chefs from the area rose to the challenge of enveloping their food with beer.
Monday, the chefs proved their culinary chops and brought the hundreds of foodies and beer lovers that attended the HopChef event at the gorgeous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables to gastronomic paradise. Though eight chefs entered, only one could step away with the title of HopChef for Miami.
That lone winning chef was Sean Brasel of Meat Market Miami.
His dish, a Peking duck with Ibarra mole-cherry brioche and panna cotta, brought to life the malt flavors of Three Philosophers, a Belgian-style quadruple ale with a 2 percent addition of Liefmans Kriek (a cherry lambic). Savory blended with sweetness in the form of dark fruits and caramelization to produce a dish destined to come out on top.
"Since everyone is pairing a beer with their dish, what thing in this beer is going to set it apart?" Brasel told us. "What is the character we can get out of it?"
Besides figuring out what he could get out of Three Philosophers flavorwise, what might have additionally set him apart from the competition is his foresight and knowledge in how to prepare food at a remote location. "When you cook behind a table, you have to figure out what to do. Sous vide is portable... You have to cook to your environment."
Indeed, grills, griddles, hot plates, warming lamps, and all manner of mobile cooking devices were in use. David Hacket of the Biltmore Hotel seared up some huge sea scallops wrapped in Iberico ham and pork loin, complete with pink grapefruit pearls and a sliver of fire cracker flatbread. Alan Hughes of the Embassy of Well Being and Debauchery (probably the best name for a restaurant ever) grilled a hearty dish of duck and Hennepin sausage, Argentine Locro with pork belly and massive white beans, and an apricot relish.
Other chefs included Jacob Anaya of the renowned OTC creating a Mexican-inspired pork rib slider, Jason Pringle of db Bistro serving a mouth-watering Three Philosophers-braised short ribs with pickled cherry gremolata, and Michael Sanchez of Latin House Grill bringing a palate-cleansing tiger shrimp ceviche with candied jalapeño and Witte agave lime sorbet.
But lest we forget the People's Choice: that chef whose dish spoke directly to the food plebeians. OK, so to be "of the people" and not one of the culinary judges isn't a bad position to be in (especially at the Biltmore), it's a position nonetheless fraught with a task that many will face in 2016... who to vote for?
Wings Over Mi-Hami chef Michael Meuse of the Doubletree Miami Airport's dish proved that Miami's love of Miami's food can't be beat. Meuse satisfied everyone's palates with a Rare Vos braised "pig wing" and paired it with a goat cheese flan, chicharron-chorizo crumble, and a Rare Vos-Black Berry gastrique. It's something that could be on any Miami restaurant's menu (and probably should be), with its blend of succulent pork and decadent flan. Now, I'm not normally a huge fan of flan, but the use of goat cheese here really threw it into that next level of interest. Take a bite with pieces of chorizo and it's that sweet/salty one-two combo.
"The people of Miami recognized it," Meuse said. "We put this dish out there for the people of Miami."
Chef Brasel will next head to Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York, for its Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival in August to face off with the other winners from cities across the country (Boston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia).
Hopefully this event will continue to occur annually in Miami, as it's exactly the type of event that craft beer, and South Florida, needs more of: a high-class, respected, beercentric event.
Check out the video I shot below to hopefully get a sense of the evening. (With music from the always impressive Mike Mineo).
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.