To pair the first dishes of the current tasting menu at Central, in Lima, sommelier Diego Vásquez Luque pours into the glass placed on the table a brownish beverage of intense brightness. “It's a beer made from sargassum, an exclusive formula that we developed with the seaweed,” he explains. “It's a fresh one, so it goes well with the sea dishes you have in front of you,” he says, pointing to the beautiful snacks made with razor clams, barnacles, and piure from the Red Rocks landscape.
But beer in the Central’s menu has a broader meaning than only pairing. In addition to using a local ingredient that comes from the same ecosystem of the ingredients served - a striking signature of chefs Virgilio Martínez and Pía León - beer is also a way to rescue the habit of consuming fermented beverages by people who have always inhabited the Andes. “They have a strong heritage in Peruvian history,” Luque explains, “which makes a lot more sense in the approach we have at Central than just being restricted to wines,” he adds.
Haute cuisine is undergoing many changes and definitely pairings and the beverage lists are no longer restricted to bottles from Bordeaux or Chianti. In a new food scenario where diversity - both in ingredients and in narratives - seems to be more appealing, other beverages are challenging the hegemony of wines around the world. And beer is willing to claim its space at the tables, thanks to its versatility.
Cerveza de Sarzago (courtesy of Central)
From chicha to beer
Wine was the main beverage when gastronomy was dominated by a Eurocentric perspective — it made sense, after all, as winemaking has always been a tradition on the Old Continent. But in countries without a strong wine tradition, there is no reason for the predominance of wine bottles. “At Central, our focus is on local ingredients that help us tell about the cultural and geographical themes that run through our different regions. Other fermented beverages are more closely related to what we want to tell about our territory and give us an identity”, says Valentino Galán Cortés, Central’s hospitality director and sommelier.
That’s why Central goes for chichas and beers, made with ingredients from different Peruvian ecosystems, such as corn, tubers, and algae - as is the case of the red beer served at the beginning of the menu. “Pairing has more power from a cultural and geographical point of view, not just for taste. This is more closely linked to the anthropological context we are trying to bring to the table”, he adds.
As it is happening to everything related to gastronomy nowadays, diners look for products more related to the essence and the context of a place, and in the “liquid world” this is going faster, as argues Central’s chef Virgilio Martínez. “In Central, wine is only available if it comes from a winemaker we know well, as is the case of the national bottles we serve. We decided to make our own beer and other beverages - from juices to spirits - to pair with our ecosystems”, he concludes.
Carrots Buckwheat (courtesy of Broaden & Build)
Beer at a higher level
Beer has also been used by other chefs who bet on its diversity combined with gastronomy - from ingredients that can be used in the creative processes to the pairing with different dishes - to offer a higher experience at the table. But it was more common in casual places, such as Tørst, in New York, one of the pioneers in the intersection of beer and food, originally opened as a beer bar in Williamsburg by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso, a noted Danish brewer from Evil Twin, and Daniel Burns, former head of Momofuku’s test kitchen. Chefs and brewers like them set the bar to a higher level that attracted haute cuisine players to the game.
Since Ferran Adrià accepted the challenge of creating “a beer to drink with food” (flavored with coriander, orange peel, and licorice) for Catalonian brewery Estrella Damm ten years ago, many chefs followed his path by teaming up with craft brewers and beer brands to develop their own labels, even if to be consumed exclusively in their restaurants, from Quique Dacosta to Heston Blumenthal, from Joël Robuchon to Thomas Keller. But from this, some were even more eager to pursue a deeper relationship between beer and dining scene.
Crispy Flatbread Yogurt Rhubarb (courtesy of Broaden & Build)
When chef Matt Orlando was looking for interesting beers to serve at his acclaimed restaurant Amass, in Copenhagen, he wasn’t finding exactly what he had in mind: beers that were organic whenever possible, but also beers that utilized interesting ingredients from the culinary world. “One day it clicked - I just needed to open my own brewery”, he explains. Broaden & Build is an “ingredient-focused brewery” created to embrace a closer relationship between the cuisine and the beer glasses, “discovering new flavors through a symbiotic combination of ingredients and techniques of both brewing and cooking”, in bottles like a Golden Ale with elderflower and a Gose with rhubarb.
“We enjoy the benefit of having both a working kitchen at Broaden & Build, as well as the shared knowledge of the kitchen staff at Amass. Many of the flavors and ingredients that we work with for dishes at the two restaurants become building blocks for beer ideas”, says Orlando, who was born in San Diego, which has long been a hotbed for craft beer in the US scene.
He explains he and head brewer Tiago Falcone love to make experiences with different flavors, and particularly with food by-products to create dishes - as is the case of a nitro stout created with blackened pears in the brew, an ingredient that definitely comes from culinary innovation as well as their desire to make use of products that might otherwise be cast aside. “With our menu at Broaden & Build, we’re definitely trying to surprise people, to elevate what they might expect from a brewery, in terms of food offerings. But not in a stuffy, pretentious way”, he points out.
Fried Chicken (courtesy of Broaden & Build)
According to the chef, brewers are really pushing the notion of what beer can be, something the gastronomy world is taking more notice of. “These days, the flavors brewers are creating are so varied, there’s probably not a dish that can’t be paired deliciously with some sort of beer”, he states. Beer certainly benefits from having an enormous array of flavors that can be created and, from a style standpoint, they can be super clean and crisp, to sour, to dark, rich and sweet. It helps to explain why beer is more and more getting into beverage lists and pairing menus worldwide.
Orlando also believes that many brewers are very interested in the culinary world, even those who don’t come from food backgrounds: according to him, they are doing a lot of the same things chefs are doing. “We just happen to do so in different forms. As a brewer, he’s done so in liquid form, and as a chef, I’ve done so in solid form. So when we develop a recipe, it’s often the intersection of the two”, the chef says, referring to a gastronomic approach they have at Broaden & Build that is gaining more attention of beer professionals. “It’s all in the pursuit of flavor”, he concludes.