Monday, November 14, 2016

Culmination's Kitchen Welcomes Chef CJ

Those familiar with the food at Culmination Brewing may have been sorry to see their original chef, Carter Owen, leave for the next step in his culinary path but fear not, owner Tomas Sluiter has selected a replacement worthy to fill the large shoes Carter leaves behind.

Chef CJ Mueller hails from Oregon and in addition to 10 years of cooking under his belt he's also been homebrewing for five years. His aim is to do farmhouse, rustic food that pairs with farmhouse beers and it seems that he may have found the perfect spot in the incubator, both for brewers and chefs, that is Culmination.

His menu is decidedly different from the "Vermont BBQ" Carter served up but it is no less delicious. At a recent media preview CJ took us through six, beer-paired courses starting with liver mousse and 2015 Kriek. I'll admit liver mousse isn't for everyone (and if you're someone that isn't sure, invite me along, I promise to make sure the dish is cleaned) and its richness can be overwhelming. The pairing with the Kriek balanced that richness and I'm not ashamed to admit I ate as much of it as my tablemates would let me have.

Next up was the Thompson Farms Broccoli paired with Farmhouse Fresh Hop. The sharp cheddar, fish sauce, togarashi and perfectly cooked, runny egg was delicious on its salty, umami-y own and well complimented by the fresh hop beer. Even the folks that weren't huge fans of fish sauce enjoyed this dish that displayed CJ's understanding of how to use a powerful ingredient to correctly to work with the other flavors in the dish.

Following that, and designed to pair with the fresh hop Saison as well, was Gruyere three ways with Chanterelle mushrooms. The presentation was as artful as you'd see anywhere in town and the flavors equally impressive.

The meal continued along the theme of "so you think you don't like ____, let me change your mind" with a charred beet salad that my friend, Pete, who is self-admittedly beet-averse said was "damn good." The sweetness brought out in the beets was complimented by the peppery arugula, which also served to accentuate the hops in the beer it was paired with - Vic Secret IPA.

Moving back toward the more familiar was CJ's take on colcannon with a side of mushrooms and gravy. It was comfort food on a plate with the mushrooms and gravy of the sort that would be found in an English pastry or shepherd's pie. The beer pairing was a Burton Ale, a style that was popular before IPAs took off. A more malty beer than I prefer, the pairing made sense.

The main dish of the night featured coulette steak that had been cooked sous vide and was paired with Phaderus IPA. The meat was incredibly tender and Phaderus is a solid IPA that works very well with meat, standing up to but not overpowering it. As with the previous course, this was a refined take on comfort food and is the type of hearty fare that will be welcomed during the cooler, darker months ahead.

The tasting finished with a dessert of pumpkin pie, malted whipped cream made with 4&20 Black IPA and concentrated pumpkin seed oil drops served with the beer they made for Horse Brass' recent anniversary - New Olde English. The dry Irish stout was made with smoked malt, giving the 7% ABV beer a roasty aroma. Stouts are great dessert beers and the dryness complimented the just-right sweetness of the pie.

Huge thanks to Culmination for a taste of the new kitchen! CJ's clearly a talented chef whose food is on par with the beer that it's being served with. Next time you pay them a visit make sure and have room for both beer and food.

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