My compliments to Chef Baird!
by Janice Limbaugh
It may be the dead of winter in West Michigan but that doesn’t mean it’s a buzz kill for fun and lively excursions. Case in point – Cool Brews. Hot Eats. It’s the second year this celebration within a celebration attracts epicurean curiosities from around West Michigan by offering dates with dishes – very special dishes made up of locally crafted beer and fabulous food. After all, retaining the title of Beer City USA, also for the second year, gives greater Grand Rapids restaurateurs more food for thought. The abundance of craft beer varieties provide a greater menu of food pairings for area chiefs. One would think that for a chef, it’s like being a kid in a candy shop with all the possible choices. What comes first – the food or the beer? Time to ask the expert.
Bar Divani Executive Chef Jeff Baird has been on the local restaurant scene for over 23 years, creating culinary delight at well-known Grand Rapids establishments such as Gibsons, The Peninsular Club and Thornapple Village Inn along with SanChez and Rockwell/Republic. For this GRCC culinary graduate, choosing the beer first was a no-brainer. He and his Sous Chef had one month to come up with a Cool Brews. Hot Eats. signature dish. “We had our mind set on Dragon’s Milk from New Holland Brewery. It’s both our favorite beer.” Choosing favorites – that was easy!
Dragon’s Milk is a Bourbon Barrel Stout that New Holland describes as ‘a stout with roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones, all dancing in an oak bath.’ I’ve had this beer on occasion and can attest to that description – even the ‘dancing in an oak bath’ part. I think that’s why I like it.
To create this signature dish, Chef Baird says he started off with flavors he appreciated in the beer then considered food flavors that were opposite fittings.
“The beer itself tastes slightly sweet and slightly bitter; perfect for pairing with braised beef short ribs. It also calls for something intense, like the earthy and robust flavors of roasted root vegetables in a Bourbon glaze balanced with Red Dragon Cheddar Cheese mashed potatoes.”
This statement sent my mind and mouth on an imaginary flavor rush. I mentioned I’ve had this beer before on occasion. This would be another of those occasions. And without a doubt, Chef Baird knew what he was doing with this dish! The combined flavors of the braised beef rib and the Bourbon glaze lent itself perfectly to a Dragon’s Milk finish. But the additional blend of the roasted root vegetables and cheddar mashed potatoes truly unified this pairing. The selection of flavors were deliciously complimentary and satisfying on a bitter cold evening. It was my first partaking in Cool Brews. Hot Eats. and I have to say it was an excellent epicurean adventure! My compliments to Chef Jeff Baird for making it possible.