THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.
For years foodies have swooned over the perfect pairing of wine and food. Sommeliers—certified wine experts—can pinpoint a single nuance within a glass of Bordeaux or Chardonnay and cast its ideal mate on a plate. A concept that has grown with the accession of the craft-beer industry is beer-pairing dinners. Beers range in many styles—and variations on those styles—as wine, so there is a greater opportunity to find a delicious partnership with food.
In the case of craft beer, its certified expert is called a “cicerone.” Caleb Churchwell, one of three owners of Bombers Bev. Co.—a bottle shop with 12 taps that opened downtown in October 2014—is in the process of achieving this esteemed mark on his résumé. Each day in the shop, Churchwell exhibits his skills for narrowing a person’s palate from 500 offerings to a few distinct beers they’ll love. When he met Fanny Slater of Fanfare Catering, Wilmington local winner of Rachael Ray’s Great American Cookbook Competition, Churchwell knew a pairing dinner should be in order.
“We met Fanny when she started coming into Bombers from the start,” he offers. “It was only fitting with her incredible knowledge as a chef and our knowledge of beer combine [to] put together an exciting event for all. It doesn’t hurt that she is a local celebrity.”
Slater took on hundreds of applicants and, ultimately, four other chefs on the “Rachael Ray Show” to be crowned the queen of the kitchen. Amongst luxurious awards, such as a trip to Cancun, new kitchen appliances from GE, and appearances on Ray’s show and in her magazine, Slater’s grand prize was a book contract with Rachael Ray Books. Her concept is “Tastes Like Childhood,” a collection of recipes and stories from growing up that will connect readers on more levels than the stovetop. The self-taught chef learned many of her skills as a child while watching her parents, owners of a once nationally famous brownie business, called “Rachel’s Brownies.”
“Coming from a brownie legacy is where my story begins,” Slater reveals. “As a kid, I would stand on a kitchen chair with my dad , sprinkling fresh herbs onto scrambled eggs and dusting paprika over a whole roasted chicken. I always had a passion for food and cooking, and spent many years in and out of kitchens, refining my skills. Other than learning about food from my parents and restaurants, I felt as if I went to the culinary school of Food Network because it was the only channel ever, ever, ever on my TV. Although I deeply respect those who have chosen the path of culinary school, I personally never liked anything that teetered into the world of formality. It’s a fun process to figure something out for yourself.”
Slater turned in her manuscript for her cookbook in October and has completed one round of editing. She’ll begin the copyediting process soon, and then work on design, layout and title. Slater expects the book to be out sometime in the next year.
“I’m having an absolute blast writing it,” she shares. “It’s full of hilarious stories, embarrassing adolescent photos, and delicious recipes, which are reinventions of dishes from my childhood. I like to think of it as ‘Tina Fey meets Rachael Ray.’”
In he meantime, Slater focuses on the catering business she formed nearly two years ago. “I would describe my cooking style as whimsical and playful,” she touts. “I love combining unexpected flavors, colors and textures. It’s definitely ‘improv cooking.’ I don’t have a specific type of cuisine I prepare, but my inspiration almost always stems from my childhood. For me, there’s a story in every bite.
“My favorite part of catering is that I get to be as wildly creative as I want,” Slater continues. “I never wanted to open a restaurant because, again, it seemed a little too ‘inside the lines.’”
The partnership with Bombers Bev. Co. will culminate in a beer-pairing meal on Saturday, March 21, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. “these types of events are crucial to provide a great customer experience outside what our customers receive when they come into Bombers,” Churchwell tells. “We take our knowledge a bit further to showcase the capabilities of craft beer and how it can reach other individuals who may not have experienced it.”
“I knew I wanted to do my own spin on bar food,” Slater explains. “I wanted people to see familiar menu items (like a meatball) but get a completely unexpected burst of flavor (like coconut and cumin).”
The meal will begin with a BLT crostini made with whiskey-bacon jam, marinated tomatoes and fresh basil. “Everybody loves bacon, so it’s hard to go wrong there—but combine bacon with whiskey and you’ll have a happy crowd,” Slater quips.
Bombers’ selection for the first round is Southern Tier’s 2012 Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Barleywine. “The whiskey-bacon jam steals the show with this dish,” Churchwell assures. “Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Barleywine will provide enough flavor and body to hold up to the big, savory flavors of the bacon jam.”
Course two will be vegetarian bahn minis made with eggplant and paired with Bell’s Oarsman. “This is a play on a Vietnamese sandwich [normally] made with pork,” Fanny explains. “It’s always good to offer one hearty vegetarian item. I’m excited for people to try these because I guarantee that even an avid meat eater will be blown away. The flavors marry beautifully, but it’s the texture that really makes the sandwich. I make honey-roasted rosemary and black-pepper peanuts from scratch, and they add a killer snap to each bite.”
“The lime cream is the showcase from this dish, “Churchwell adds. “the peanuts lend a nice background. Bell’s Berliner Weisse has a delicate tartness that will mesh well with the lime-cream sauce and not overtake the roasted peanut finish.” Moroccan-spiced meatballs in coconut-basil marinara will be served alongside Ommegang Rare Vos. Slater describes the food’s flavors as exotic and warm, and tropical with its rich coconut. “The spicy phenols from this Belgian Amber will lend well to the curry and basil from the meatballs. Enough body and flavor to hold up to a dish like this,” Churchwell describes.
For the finale, Slater will craft her “Rachel’s Daughter’s” double-chocolate and French-roast brownies. “My mom’s original recipe was double chocolate, and I grew up drinking Starbucks French roast with my dad,” she says. “By mixing those two flavors, I’ve created a brownie that represents the combination of my mom and dad. The brownies are perfectly fudgy and will be an insanely awesome bite [when paired] with a dark sip.”
Bombers is ending on a rich note with Atwater’s Vanilla Java Porter. Churchwell describes that it will bring all our guilty pleasures to life. “Big coffee, roast and chocolate within the brownie and a touch of vanilla from the beer will add an intriguing addition to the coffee and chocolate notes,” he says.
Aside from tantalizing pairings, the event will host Andrea Dingeldein of The Local Naturalist, who crafts jewelry from seashells, sea glass, and other found items. Wilmington artist Bianca Lopez will showcase her paintings as well. Tickets for the private event are $30.