2005 | COLUMNS | ECKHARDT
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
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
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
Fred Eckhardt drinks beer and sake with his
chocolate in Portland, Oregon.