BRU Boulder Beer Dinner pushes all boundaries with ‘Brewed Food’ meal

Chefs Ian Clark of BRU Handbuilt Ales & Eats and Jensen Cummings, an experimental chef who founded “Brewed Food”, performed a balancing act of epic proportions as the pair collaborated on a six-course paired menu exhibiting “fermentation at its finest”, where beer meets food at the most recent Beer Dinner at BRU Boulder.

Beer Chef Clark, who oversees both the kitchen and brew house at his low profile gastropub, BRU handbuilt ales, explained to diners recently that when he met Cummings in 2009, he thought “what a fun thing it’d be to a) brew a special beer; and b) do a beer dinner where the chefs both collaborate on the food and the beer itself. So you all are here – at this dinner,” he said.

Chef Ian Clark of BRU Boulder (on right) introduces Chef Jensen Cummings of Brewed Food (left) and his approach to beer pairings to the diners at their collaborative beer dinner. {photo by rachel dugas}

Jensen said he took this idea to Beer Chef Clark back in 2009, when they met at a function in Denver, leading him to share his culinary perspective of “Brewed Food”, or cuisine that showcases the overlap where brewing meets food in a series of pop-up events, adding the beer dinner at BRU was a culmination of years of “looking at brewing as if it were a culinary art.” Jensen added that not many professional brewers are actually culinary chefs, noting Clark to be one big exception.

Chef Jensen Cummings details his culinary journey to bring the culinary world into the brewing world like nothing we’ve experienced before. No pressure. {photo by rachel dugas}

“Creating this collective movement (is) all about using brewing ingredients and techniques as the inspiration of the cuisine, rather than finished beer,” described Cummings, a chef with an extensive culinary background in Denver. The Chef said he came up with the idea for Brewed Food in 2012 after he received his cicerone certification, which is when he said he began “exploring where cooking and brewing intersect.

“This guy here (gesturing toward Clark) – he Is the embodiment of everything that Brewed Food is all about,” Cummings continued.

“It’s about bringing chefs and brewers together in very thoughtful and meaningful ways to create kind of the next evolution of the beer and food movement.”

The chef added that as the craft beer movement continues to grow, especially in Colorado, cities like Boulder and Denver are constantly on the forefront of modern American gastropub cuisine, where beer and food experiences like the ones held at BRU continue to push our boundaries of what we expect from our local establishments. He added he is taking his innovative concept Brewed Food on an 8-city tour across the country and to Mexico to share his knowledge of the brewed foods movement.

Chef Jensen Cummings of Brewed Food pairs with Chef Ian Clark of BRU Boulder for epic Beer Dinner. Photo by Rachel Dugas.
Chef Cummings of Brewed Food steps in for his close-up of the fourth course, paired with a dry hopped Imperial Stout with Chinook hops. The course featured burnt wort with pine, “yeasty” yuzu kosho sauce and striped bass. {photo by rachel dugas}

This culinary culmination was anything but simple. Chefs Clark and Cummings presented their dishes and menu in such a way that got us diners excited to sample some fermented foods and anxious to try what came next. The 6-courses took 3 and 1/2 hours to execute, leaving diners to soak in the memory of each dish, floating from one interesting bite to the next as each course was served. Each dish was even more technically complicated than the previous, building chemistry with each intoxicating sip of perfectly crisp, perfectly Boulder microbrewed craft beer.

Wood Roasted Cockles with Chef Clarks’s lacto-cultured butter (made from triple-fermented cream with lacto and lactic acid which was fermented for weeks) and saison broth, fermented fennel and tangerine. Paired with 5290 Saison. {photo by rachel dugas}

Cummings and Clark did an amazing job of complementing the beer in some dishes, while others contrasted to such an extreme my only reaction was to let out an audible laugh. Stout with striped bass? SURE! Lacto-fermented butter? Why not? One thing is clear, these chefs made great strides in challenging our opinions of what a pairing should be.

Clark’s team delivered a six-course service to a dozen diners in 3 and 1/2 hours from start to finish, all while juggling demands from a decently full restaurant service with seamless effort. {photo by rachel dugas}

The highlight of the meal was with Chef Clark’s “backyard honey”, which he used in every aspect of the fifth course, including in the Collaboration Imperial Stout, which resulted in the most harmonious plate, complete with fall spices, poached pear and a fabulous black pepper seasoned chestnut puree (which Chef Clark said he de-shelled, cleaned and roasted by hand).

Chef Clark’s “backyard honey” was one of the highlights of the evening. Pictured is the fifth course – honey lacquered pork belly roulade stuffed with ale sausage served with celeriac kraut, chestut puree and pear. A perfect holiday plate. {photo by rachel dugas}

My favorite course, by far, was the dessert and beer pairing – Collaboration Imperial Stout with vanilla roasted oak paired with spent grain panna cotta and stout gelee – the ale yeast cajeta caramel was tasty but dense, most remained on the plate; and the fugle hopped pistachio brittle was amazing which made me wishing there was more.

Ahh! Dessert! A beautiful visual representation of Yin meets Yen in my favorite course of the night – Spent grain panna cotta with ale yeast cajeta caramel, and fuggle hopped pistachio brittle and stout gelee. This was paired with a collaboration Imperial Stout with oak and vanilla bean. Sensual seduction times three. (It was the 3rd stout of the evening after all.) {photo by rachel dugas}

As a fortunate participant in this fermentation expedition, I was welcomed into the realm of two amazingly talented chefs who forced me to leave behind preconceived notions of pairing beer with creature comforts like lagers with tacos, or stouts with chocolate. This unconventional Beer Dinner now replaces all of my existing beer-meets-food boundaries, which have been whipped, triple-fermented, crusted, rolled and evaporated into the cosmos with victorious vigor.

In the end we tasted 3 collaborative stouts, 2 saisons and 1 IPA. All of the beers were considerably high abv, which by the end of the evening translated into boozy conversations about Netflix chef biopic documentaries and other incredibly entertaining nonsense (which in my opinion is a sign of a great evening). But, although every single element in each course was precisely hand-crafted with the highest quality of elegance and refinement, the chefs’ efforts may have blurred over the course of the evening.

At the end of the immensely entertaining and conversational evening, everyone left with their bellies full and their minds blown. This experience definitely raises the bar for my standard of beer pairings. BRU’s next beer dinner features the theme of Starwars and takes place Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015.

I legally must disclose that I received a complimentary meal in exchange for a professional article relating my experience. I am in no way obligated to say nice things; my opinions are entirely uncompensated.

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