When tasked with pairing beer with food at an elite level, El Moro Spirits and Tavern Executive Chef Sean Clark brought a taste of home to the global culinary stage at the James Beard House in New York City earlier this month.
It was Clark’s fourth appearance cooking at the James Beard House and his second invitation for National Beer Week. In honor of the late chef and author James Beard, the house is maintained by a nonprofit foundation to nurture the country’s culinary culture by inviting acclaimed chefs from around the nation to prepare tasting menus for dinner gatherings and celebrations.
“James Beard was a champion of American cuisine and has had far-reaching impacts on all of us, whether we realize it or not,” Clark said. “(When) cooking in his house, it’s hard not to just stare at the walls and think of all the amazing chefs that have since cooked in this very kitchen. It’s not a glamorous kitchen, it’s small and hot, but it’s an incredible honor to be a part of it. Now, knowing what to expect, I have been able to go into it and really relish in the experience.”
Clark was first invited to cook at the prestigious location in 2009, on behalf of Steamworks Brewing Co., to participate in the kitchen’s first National Beer Week dinner. Traditionally known for pairing dinners with wine, it was an inaugural occasion for the James Beard House that has since continued year after year.
“At the time, it was kind of a big deal,” Clark said. “Even the staff insisted that we still offer wine because they were unsure of how the guests would respond to having beer serviced with dinner. Now nearly 10 years later, beer has found its rightful place at the table.”
This year’s chefs again paired multi-course meals with top beers from around the country. Clark was part of a four-chef team assembled by Adam Dulye, head chef for the Boulder-based Brewer’s Association.
The chefs represented a variety of restaurants and flavors from across the U.S., and each were assigned a beer and a course to create a collective menu for the evening, which served 65 dinner guests.
Clark prepared these dishes for his courses:
Appetizer: Tempura fried cauliflower tossed in a fermented red chile sauce made from Colorado and New Mexico chiles, served on top of a green mole sauce and topped with toasted pepitas, cotija cheese and micro cilantro.Main course: Wild boar berbere sausage with black barley tabbouleh and avocado crema. The dish also included chicharrons (fried pork rinds) tossed in a Chimayo chile powder that Clark’s mother grew, along with some fresh pea shoots, purple and green radishes, tamarind vinaigrette, cucumber and marinated peppers. The dinner prepared by Clark and his team featured beers from Fremont Brewing Co. of Seattle and Maine Beer Co. of Freeport, Maine.
“We have learned our lesson over the years,” he said. “Now we approach it more with a ‘work smarter, not harder’ philosophy.”
As the executive chef for Peak Brewing LLC, the parent company of Steamworks and El Moro, Clark is experienced when it comes to pairing food with beer. He said it is important to understand the flavors of the beer and their contributing factors, such as the malt and hop profiles, the flavors of the yeast, and the carbonation and alcohol. He considers how each of these factors interact to create harmony between the food, beer and palate.
“The dishes came out really well. For being early in spring, they were colorful and vibrant, which was the same for the other dishes prepared. So overall, it was a really beautiful set that we put out there,” Clark said.