This past Sunday was Fair Food‘s tenth (yes, tenth!) annual Brewer’s Plate, an evening full of fine local foods and craft beers. For the first time ever at the gorgeous Kimmel Center, the evening featured more than 1000 food and craft beer enthusiasts — eating, drinking, mingling and dancing on three floors on a beautiful spring evening. VIP ticket holders enjoyed the first ever “Sausage Showdown: The Best of the Wurst,” where seven Garces Group Restaurants and the Garces Catering Group competed for spicy/sweet bragging rights in the sausage and beer pairing competition. In addition to Iron Chef Jose Garces and Fair Food’s Ann Karlen, celebrity judges included: Philadelphia Eagle Brent Celek, Victory Brewing Company’s Bill Covaleski, NBC 10’s Sheena Parveen and Food Network’s Marc Summers. All attendees enjoyed the Locavore Lounge (featuring select nano breweries, small-batch food artisans and Brewer’s Plate mainstays), the Angry Orchard Cider House (featuring cider cocktails) and the swinging live tunes from the Hoppin John Orchestra.
Between bites and sips, we set out to find the the stories behind the food industry folk who craft cuisine and brews from local goods. We asked some of The Brewer’s Plate’s chefs, bakers, brewers and owners to share their (chocolate covered) memories regarding one question …
Honoring The Brewer’s Plate’s 10th anniversary this year, how has your personal and/or professional food world changed in the last 10 years? Any changes in what you eat/drink, serve, cook/brew/bake and so forth?
Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery‘s executive chef Paul Trowbridge: I would have to say that the biggest influence has been the rise of online reviews by ordinary people. In some ways direct feedback can be very useful, but the majority is not constructive and petty. The food industry has more ingredients available from more varied sources that give chefs greater range to create, making it an exciting time to be a chef.
Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse‘s cheese maker Jonathan S. White: Ten years ago, when we spoke about 100% grass fed raw milk, heritage grains and wood-fired breads, we would often get incredulous stares, but nowadays it’s more like preaching to the choir!
Brauhaus Schmitz & Wursthaus Schmitz‘s chef Jeremy Nolen: I think the past ten years has seen so many changes in many aspects of my life as a chef and the restaurant industry itself. I’ve grown more as a chef and have focused a lot on making tasty food, rather than fine dining. I’ve worked before in hotels and French restaurants and fine dining, and I think I’ve just realized that I would rather make delicious food and have people enjoy it more than trying to cook fine dining. I’ve definitely embraced the more casual dining aspect than the white tablecloth side of the industry. I think it’s about realizing who you are as a chef and what you like to cook and what you like to cook for others.
I think the industry has changed so much, too, where everyone is trying to find better ingredients, whether it’s more local, healthful or organic and hormone free, or just more quality than what it used to be. Ten years ago, many chefs and consumers alike didn’t know or think about where their food came from, and now farms are listed on menus and at grocery stores. It’s great that local farms get support. It’s something I’ve always connected to because I grew up in Amish country and have been visiting farms my whole life with my family. Having such close proximity to these farms, my parents always took our family to the local farms and farm stands on the side of the roads to buy everything from produce to fresh eggs and raw milk. I guess that’s the one benefit of growing up in farm country! But I’m excited to see more knowledge and support of this.
Choptank Oyster Company‘s owner Kevin McClarren: In the last 10 years, The Brewers Plate has become more difficult [for us at Choptank] because of the involvement by the Philadelphia Department of Health. I have started drinking more rum. My children have gotten picky. I eat more sushi. More oyster farms have popped up, because they think it will be fun. I am less tolerant of winter weather, or [maybe] the recent winters have sucked more. I don’t like peanut and chocolate flavored beers. I like peanuts, I like chocolate, and I like beer. I just don’t like them all mashed up in a bottle.
Di Bruno Bros.‘s VP Emilio Mignucci: Over the last 10 years, I would say that I, like the trend of my customer base, have really been focusing more on locally-produced, very well-made products, whether it is for home use or dining out. We know that there is value in the quality of the products that we want to sell, even if they are a little more expensive. This is something that I think is very important to understand and to teach. I think that Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma really gets that point across. One of the other benefits to supporting local, well-made foods is that you are also supporting the local economy and helping to provide jobs. These are all very important to the community. At the same time, I do appreciate what is going on in other countries that we import from. That is why we support importing and selling products that are coming from and being manufactured by farmers and small “mom & pop” companies.
Dock Street Brewery‘s owner Rosemarie Certo: Food remains best when it’s fresh and local. My adjustments in food and beer taste [the last 10 years] is that, at their best, both are in smaller portions with stronger, more distinctive flavors. Both are much more diversified and influenced by global cuisines.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery‘s founder/president Sam Calagione: When Dogfish opened in 1995, I think we were the only craft brewery focused on vetting the entire culinary landscape for potential brewing ingredients. This approach is at the heart of our off-centered brewing philosophy. Food and beer are pretty much synonymous to us. In the last 10 years, it has been great seeing more and more high-end, white-tablecloth restaurants putting as much attention into their beer menus as they do their wine menus. Events like The Brewer’s Plate allow us beer-type folk to prove American craft beer is as food-compatible as the world’s finest wines, only more diverse and more affordable.
Donna & Company Artisanal Chocolates‘ chocolatier/founder Diane Pinder: I discovered Slow Food when I went to Italy in 2006. When I returned, the first thing I did was join the organization. It defines how I make my chocolate products. Since then, I eat fresh, and I eat local and look for foods that source ingredients locally.
Earth Bread + Brewery‘s owners Tom Baker & Peggy Zwerver: The best thing that we have witnessed in the last ten years is the focus on buying locally. People realize it’s better to buy close to home … know where your food comes from!
EPIC Pickles‘ founder/pickler Rob Seufert: In my personal food world, the biggest change these past 10 years has been to become part of the artisanal food movement. People will always eat, but nowadays people don’t want an anonymous, factory-based product. They want to be part of an experience. That’s what started me in cooking, and now, guess what? I make pickles — small batches, fresh ingredients, fabulous flavor. People who buy my pickles are buying my time, my obsession for quality and my zany zing that no mass manufactured product can have. Whether it’s a great meal, fabulous beer or amazing pickle, I want to make it memorable! I think that attitude has changed the food world for all of us.
Fair Food Farmstand‘s project manager Alex Jones: Ten years ago, my food world was very different. I was a broke college student living off of day-old bagels from my coffee shop job, leftovers from my catering job, and Lebanese food from a joint near my newspaper job. I was a vegetarian. I cooked for myself but bought the most budget-friendly groceries possible.
Fast forward to 10 years (and a couple stalled career paths) later. Food — local farm food in particular — is my profession, and I eat better than I ever have. Just about anything in my fridge and pantry that can be found locally is, and I find myself unwinding by cooking dinner or canning preserves. I consider myself lucky to have a position that makes it easy and affordable for me to use my food dollars for good, and I can’t imagine eating differently.
- Creamery Staff Member Stacey Gentile: Grass-fed everything! Once I was educated on the importance of what the animal is eating, it helped to open my eyes to shopping local and supporting grass-fed farmers. The idea behind grass-fed is the fact that our bodies and brains need the Omega-3’s from grass-fed cheese, meat and eggs. Eat good, support local, and know your farmer.
- Cheese Maker Matt Hettlinger: The food movement has changed so much in the past 10 years. The shift in focus about where, how, and who produces our food has become much more important. For myself, the mentality about the food that my family consumes has shifted from one of convenience to more of a consciousness about knowing the farms and producers that create what ends up on our dinner table. Looking ahead, I am interested in the challenges that will be on the horizon about the delicate balance between sustainability and nutrition while still being able to feed a growing global population.
- Cheese Maker Samuel Kennedy: Over the last ten years I have gone from being a professional chef, focused on the artisan aspects of the local food movement, to a professional cheese maker ingrained into the local food movement. This has allowed me to become part of the farm family, so to speak, even more so than I was ever involved in when I was a chef. This family atmosphere has helped drive my passion for the creation of a high-quality, farmstead cheese and my appreciation for everyone I have met along the way.
The Franklin Fountain & Shane Confectionery‘s co-owner Eric Berley: We opened our little ice cream corner to the world 9.5 years ago — named The Franklin Fountain. Since opening, we’ve moved away from purchased products to house making most items, including homemade Franklin Ice Creams in 2006 (Best of Philly Ice Creams), Fudgey Brownies and all toppings in 2008 (remember us on Man vs Food), Clear Toy Candies in 2006 (as featured on Food Network shows), homemade sodas in 2008 (NY Times Front Page in 2012) and now a full-scale chocolate store — Shane Confectionery (Best of Philly Chocolates, Martha Stewart Awards 2013).
Since graduating college in 2003, eating mostly at the “Caf” at William and Mary, I’ve fallen in love with the craft food and drink movement here at home, Philadelphia. Our professional angle thus far has been craft sweets — but the food and drinks I enjoy outside of work reflect an interest in exploring the local food movement at Farmer’s Markets, our connection to historic foods, gardening now my own tomatoes and herbs, making homemade meals with my wife and splurging on the exquisite talent of the many chefs and kitchens of Philadelphia and BEYOND!
Free Will Brewing Company‘s manager Dominic Capace: The last ten years span my early/mid-20’s to 30’s. In a nutshell, I’ve gone from exploring the exotic to becoming more appreciative of local/seasonal foods and simple dishes. While this does not make me unique, my taste in beer has gone in the same direction. I wouldn’t say that I don’t still like to try a crazy IPA — we make a few at the brewery and they sell out fast — but after a long day, chances are I’ll be drinking our porter or kolsch. I find them every bit as flavorful.
John & Kira’s Chocolates‘ co-owner John Doyle: I’m happy to see small batch chocolatiers blossom over this time period. Honestly when I started John and Kira’s 11 years ago, there were eight chocolatiers in the nation that were doing super-upscale chocolates. Today there are more than 15 just in New York City! There must be 300 in the US today. It’s amazing that we, John & Kira’s, continue to grow with hundreds of new competitors.
Khyber Pass Pub‘s chef Mark McKinney: In the last 10 years, I’d say I’ve learned how to maintain standards and consistency now that I’ve been at the helm of the Royal Tavern/Cantina Dos Segundos/Khyber Pass Pub food program for almost eight years. To keep our restaurants busy and running efficiently, I’ve had to grow into an executive position that focuses as much on the financial side of things as I do on the culinary side. Personally, I went back to being vegan a couple years ago, and that’s definitely focused my cooking on a healthier, more plant-based direction, while still maintaining our core of exciting “bar” food.
London Grill‘s owner Terry Berch McNally: PIG PIG PIG is what everyone’s still eating, and everyone still wants SMALL PLATES. Vegetarian and vegan are now an easy (and must) addition to menus, although we are struggling with the gluten-free pasta and bread requests.
Miss Rachel’s Pantry‘s owner/chef Rachel Klein: I think in the last 10 years, the food world has gone from getting excited over the most exotic things from far away to getting excited over the freshest stuff from right around the corner.
Philadelphia Brewing Company‘s co-owner Nancy Barton: In the last 10 years, I think personally we have become more aware and care more about where our food comes from and how it has been handled. We always try to buy and eat local and seasonal products. We, of course, drink local 🙂 As far as professionally, we’ve become very diligent in making sure our raw ingredients are certified GMO free. We feel this is important for ourselves, our customers and the environment.
ShawneeCraft Brewing Company‘s Philadelphia “beer evangelist” Ryan Vaughan: Personally, I’m slowly becoming more and more conscientious of what I consume. I’m much more aware of where things are sourced from and the quality of the ingredients that go into what I eat and drink. ShawneeCraft Brewery opened about five years ago with a focus on locally-sourced, organic ingredients, and even in that short time it’s been easy to see that other people are also starting to become more aware. Philadelphia has an abundance of great natural ingredients grown nearby, and I can’t wait to see what the talented chefs and brewers in the area will do with them in the coming decade.
Southwark‘s owner Sheri Waide: I guess we would have to say how awesome it is to see how the variety of local products available to us has grown so much over the years. From interesting new veggies, fruit and grains, to the wonderful new cheeses out there, more consistent local meats, awareness of sustainable fish, and don’t forget all the great new prepared items from small producers sourcing local ingredients!
Tria‘s owner Jon Myerow: The big change in the past ten years is that there is so much more excellence. There are so many more great restaurants and breweries. We as consumers are so fortunate. In 2014 Philadelphia, foodies and beer geeks are living like kids in candy stores. Being in the business, it makes us try harder, because the competition is so strong. It’s a win-win.
Varga Bar‘s executive chef R. Evan Turney: The way my style of cooking has changed has been really cool. [Varga Bar manager] Rich and I collaborate on some awesome food/beer pairings. We do a beer dinner every month: 5 courses, 5 beers. We also do a bunch of outdoor events: outdoor crawfish boil with andouille sausage and corn/potatoes usually in March/April when the crawfish season starts. We also do an outdoor crab boil usually in late summer. We have an outdoor suckling pig roast in the fall, we have an outdoor turkey fry in the beginning of winter where we deliver a whole turkey to you and carve it table-side with all the sides. Varga has just been so much fun to really get creative and do awesome events that nobody else is really doing. I think in the last 10 years alone, my knowledge of beer/food and the endless possibilities of putting the two together has been awesome! We have a huge outdoor block party for Philly Beer Week [this year on Saturday June 1, 2014]. We have the grill outside, tons of craft beer/satellite can beer stations, a dunk tank, wing-eating contest, hot dog-eating contest, Varga pinup girl calendar tryouts. The rest of the week, we do a different type of food every day based on what our event/brewery is. For instance, we did a pig roast to pair up with Flying Fish; we did alligator tacos to pair up with Left Hand Brewing because Left Hand Dan wanted to throw a party and eat alligator; and we paired up with Southern Tier and did shrimp and grits, braised oxtail and poached eggs, and ribs and corn bread. One year with Left Hand, Dan wanted shark, so we made shark three different ways. I guess what I’m saying is that in the last 10 years, I’ve really been able to just cook whatever I’ve always wanted to cook and pair it up with awesome craft beer. It’s been an awesome experience!
Victory Brewing Company‘s president/brewmaster Bill Covaleski: In the last ten years, it has become so much easier for my family to source truly local foods. Places like Wyebrook Farm have really enhanced the local food culture and encouraged other producers to join in.
Weyerbacher Brewing Company‘s NJ Sales Manager Natalie DeChico: My personal food world has certainly changed thanks to my profession as a Weyerbacher sales rep. Being in the beer industry for six years — and with Weyerbacher for over three — has opened my eyes to restaurants and bars that are crafting their own food and menus, versus the “chain restaurants” that plague our country. There are so many great new places to eat that have hand-crafted menus that wow the palate, which is showcased at The Brewer’s Plate. I’ve always liked to cook and bake and, over the past few years, have found myself incorporating beer into more of my recipes and not using too many pre-made or box recipes. The craft food movement, if I can call it that, is more then just eating for fuel; it’s about going out, enjoying the company you’re with and the food you’re eating. It’s about not just slugging beers to get drunk but rather pairing a specific brew with a pork belly pretzel sandwich and savoring a beer milkshake for dessert. It used to be a luxury to eat at restaurants that we see at The Brewer’s Plate, but now it’s tough not to find an affordable great place to have a wonderful meal at! Being able to see and taste the growth the restaurant industry has made in the past years is a wonderful experience, and I can’t wait to see what creative brews, dishes and pairings come up next!
Want more? Check out food/beer folks’ answers to a different question in CCM’s recap of last year’s Brewer’s Plate here. And be sure to keep Sunday evenings open in March of 2015 for the eleventh annual Brewer’s Plate …