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APR/MAY 2005 | COLUMNS | ECKHARDT

Chocolate, anyone?
By Fred Eckhardt

Beer and chocolate. The combination seems to have taken on a life of its own. The Portland Oregonian and the Tacoma News Tribune here in the Pacific Northwest are just two of the many newspapers that printed major features on the relationship between chocolate and beer for Valentine's Day.

Early in February, chocolate impresario Pete Slosberg ("Cocoa Pete" — cocoapetes.com) and Tom Field, executive chef and owner of Portland's Rose and Raindrop pub restaurant, put on a very good chocolate and beer dinner at that pub. (The reader may remember Slosberg's tour de force, Pete's Wicked Ale, a beer he invented as a homebrewer and which he brought to national standing before selling the company.)

The third week of February, with the Celebrator's San Francisco Beerapalooza, triggered a number of wonderful parties, including Chef Bruce Paton's Cathedral Hill Hotel Beer and Chocolate pairing. Paton is Cathedral's executive chef and has been recognized for his innovative and well-managed beer dinners.

Now, the idea of using chocolate as an ingredient in cooking is not new. It was probably a factor in Mayan cooking, as it is even now in Mexican cuisine. And, of course, beer is just now coming into fashion among many gourmands, who are actually conceding that beer can be an element of fine dining. For the most part, this has not reached the food writers of America just yet, but one can always hope. Some food writers are certainly missing the point. One writer called much of American food writing "food porn" in the September 2003 issue of the renowned Columbia Journalism Review. As a genuine foodie myself, I couldn't agree more.

Beer is just now coming into fashion among many gourmands, who are actually conceding that beer can be an element of fine dining.

Paton and Cocoa Pete put together a fascinating dinner featuring some truly wonderful Belgian beers matched with very innovative dishes, each featuring chocolate as a major element. The first beer in the door was the wonderful Belgian-French DeuS, from Belgian brewer Bosteels. DeuS Cuvée is refined in the Champagne region of France in the manner of Champagne. This "Champagne" is a golden delight with bubbles that hang around for a while as one imbibes. The match was with Chef's Hors d'Oeuvres, friendly snacks to put one in the "mood."

Cocoa Pete explained the process of making fine chocolates while we nibbled and slurped our fine Belgian beer. He had discovered Belgian chocolate in that country in 2002 under the tutelage of the great Belgian brewer Pierre Celis, who, working alone, managed to revive the Belgian wit bière style a few years back. We sampled a plate of chocolate beans and a selection of small chocolate particles illustrating the various possibilities.

Cocoa Pete pointed out that Europeans eat more chocolate than we do (the average Swiss eats nearly two pounds per month; we in the United States eat 13 ounces a month). Moreover, not only do the Europeans eat more chocolate, but they put more chocolate in their chocolate. Europeans expect 35% cocoa content in sweet dark chocolate, compared to the FDA requirement in the States of 15% (although 35% is specified for bittersweet and semisweet). The milk chocolate standards are 25% versus 10%.

Our first course, paired with Bosteels' Kwak, was a Cocoa Sweetbread with White Chocolate Parsnip Flan. Sweetbreads are a bit "iffy" in my book, but these were well prepared and quite palatable, and the flan easily brought my senses back to normal. There has never been a food course that Kwak did not love.

The second course started with Bosteels' Tripel Karmeliet, a beer that takes to chocolate like royalty to crowns. This was paired with Paton's Pan-Seared Skate with Sonoma Foie Gras and Chocolate Balsamic Brown Butter. The chocolate comes forth here but is very low-key. The Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar was something Paton found in a small specialty store in his neighborhood. The label indicated that it was "natural," meaning that it probably came from a chocolate distillate "essence," the same "natural" chocolate that one finds in many "chocolate" stouts now on the market. The skate responded very well to the low-keyed chocolate balsamic treatment.

I asked Chef Paton how he became interested in using chocolate in his cooking, and he said his main intent has always been to elevate beer and food to the level of wine and food, hence the exotic ingredients and the interesting food courses he offers. He told me that food with beer has long been his specialty.

The third course (entrée) was a remarkably delicious Slow-Roasted Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin with Truffle Grits in Chocolate Port Wine Reduction, served on marscapone and presented with Chimay Grande Réserve.

The grand finale was a wonderful Quartet of Chocolate, served with Urthel Samaranth Quadrupel. This beer has been called Belgium's newest "cult" classic, at 11.5% abv. It's a marvelous beer that makes me wonder where I can go to join this "cult." The chocolate quartet was a plate of four chocolate delights.

Cocoa Pete had additional chocolate for us and extra beer. With more of Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet he paired his Nuts So Serious Hazelnut base (with pistachios). Caramel Knowledge (liquid caramel with coffee-flavored chocolate) was served with Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA from Eric Warner's Denver brewery, along with Maltimus Maximus (malt-flavored chocolate). The last gasp, another jolt of Chimay Grande Réserve, was served with Cocoa Pete's Berry Berry Dangerous chocolate croutons.

Fred Eckhardt drinks beer and sake with his chocolate in Portland, Oregon.

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