Late last week, chef and Momofuku personality David Chang published an editorial in GQ stating that he hates "fancy beer." To this, I shrugged.
To Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, it held a personal angst that necessitated a rebuttal (in the same magazine, no less). After the fallout, it only made sense to rethink my own perceptions of the evolving beer world and what that means for everyone involved.
Chang is a successful chef who became popular after opening the Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village of New York City. His interpretations and escalation of the humble ramen dish into haute-cuisine reflected a rise across the culinary landscape of plebeian foods to the upper echelons of fine dining.
In 2012, alongside Executive Producer Anthony Bourdain, he embarked on a 16-episode cooking/travel/educational series titled The Mind of a Chef, which featured Chang doing what he does best: cooking, drinking, and more cooking. He's won numerous awards and is well-respected in his field. (You can watch it on Netflix.)
Again, I read his rantings on his (personal) preferences for "shitty beer" (Chang's word choice, not ours) over "fancy beer," and I remain unimpressed. Beyond the click-bait headline, Chang mostly delves deep into his own pseudo-psychology as to why he eschews craft beer for a bottle of Bud Light.
"There's no drink I love more," he asserts. "I love it more than any great white wine, more than any white Burgundy, which I love very, very much. In my fridge, the only beer -- practically the only foodstuff I've ever purchased for home -- is Bud Light bottles."
Perhaps from any other person, the beer world wouldn't bat an eye. I have friends and family members who won't ever go beyond their bottles of Corona, and how can I fault them? It's easy, it's familiar, and it's cheap. But what sets Chang apart is that he is known for elevating the simple into the interesting. He's known for taking risks and moving the cutting edge of cooking forward.
Because of this propensity to the flavorful, it's where we come into a reaction from us beer people (yes, this blogger included).
"It's not the fancy beer you don't like," Garrett Oliver replied in his editorial. "You don't like us, your people. You have a 'tenuous relationship with the Epicurean snob set'? You are the epicurean snob set! I've seen you with champagne in one hand and a Noma lamb leg in the other, chatting up celebrities. Why you frontin'?"
It's a case of one side of the food industry looking down on another. American craft beer is the new age of experimentation in fermented foods, and Chang's blanket dismissal, his relegation of it to appropriate times and places, is a bit of a black eye.
His thoughts on beer and food pairings are intriguing, to say the least.
"Let me make one ironclad argument for shitty beer: It pairs really well with food," he says. "All food. Think about how well champagne pairs with almost anything. Champagne is not a flavor bomb! It's bubbly and has a little hint of acid and tannin and is cool and crisp and refreshing. Cheap beer is, no joke, the champagne of beers."
As a proud beer snob, the first thing I can think of is, "I would think a spritzy farmhouse ale would be more like a champagne for food pairing," but then I come back to that phrase and realize that Chang is interested in using his beers to cleanse the palate between bites.
If that works for him, then by all means. The rest of us will continue to put some thought into things and add a little nuance with our pairings, to add a level of flavorful interest to our meal.
Don't get me wrong -- I still am a big fan of Chang's and his work. It took me many years to get through the veneer of odd-sounding beer names and the plethora of styles that were available to my virgin palate.
It also took me many years to finally get over hating on Bobby Flay, as I now understand him better than I did in my early 20s, so I have faith in you, David Chang. I have faith that though you may not hold beer close to your heart right now... sorry, "fancy beer"... perhaps one day in the future you'll hang out with your pall Oliver -- or any of the thousands of laboring brewers (whom you so easily dismiss with your neckbeard comment ) who put their blood sweat and tears into their craft and put more hours into drinking something flavorful and handcrafted.
Or perhaps you won't. In any case, the craft beer world will continue on, pushing the envelope of beer styles while showing the rest of the world that America is indeed at the forefront of the 21st Century's brewing tradition.
So now, I return to the beginning, reading again Chang's statements and giving a blasé shrug of the shoulders. Good thing he's sticking to ramen.
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 Instagram.
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