Although beer-paired dinners have become all the rage in recent years, it's a family tradition for Brickworks head chef Steph Gagne that goes back to her earliest days as a cook.
"Every male in my family is a hunter and we all drink beer, so it's something I've been doing for as long as I've been cooking," Gagne recalled.
The Quebecois chef is going back to her roots for next week's Suds + Spirits Pairing Dinner, where she'll whip up a hearty five-course meal complemented by a selection of beer, cider and spirits from Central City Brewers.
Gagne was especially impressed by the experimentation coming out of the Surrey distillery of late. Known to play around with different flavours and botanicals, Central City uses berries sourced from the Rocky Mountains in its gin, lending it a distinctly light and refreshing quality.
"I'm just really liking the new brands of liquor they have," said Gagne, who will pair the company's Queensborough Gin in the second course with a duck carpaccio. "I'm a gin drinker myself, and their gin is so beautiful."
Kicking off the meal will be Gagne's play on an Italian-American classic, cioppino, with a stew of seared red snapper, clams and mussels awash in a spicy tomato broth flavoured with Central City's Seraph Vodka.
For the main, it's a stick-to-your-ribs elk risotto-stuffed quail wrapped in succulent wild boar bacon, paired with the Red Racer Black Lager.
"It's the biggest course and the food's got a lot of flavour, so we're going to pair it with a beer that's easy to drink — it should be well balanced," Gagne noted.
Then it's a beloved French-Canadian staple for the fourth course: creton, a paté-like pork spread smeared over crostinis and, in this case, served with Gagne's homemade apple chutney and the Hopping Mad Cider.
Finally, for the sweettooths out there, Gagne will make a freestanding vanilla and honey crème brulée atop a springy fennel and lemon spongecake for dessert.
The chef explained the method to her madness when crafting a multicourse menu alongside several different kinds of beverages.
"What I usually do is a bit of a taste test, and then you pick a flavour in the spirit or beer that you like, and you either choose to contrast it or emphasize it," she explained. "And then you try to pick an order that's coherent going from the lightest to the heaviest flavours so you're not crowding the palate. You also look at what's local, what's seasonal, what's fresh, what's ready to go, and that's basically it. It's kind of like pulling things out of a hat."
Even though Gagne is no stranger to serving beer with her family's meals, the concept of beer-paired dinners has only started to gain traction in the high-end food world relatively recently.
"It's definitely getting some momentum, but I don't think it will ever be where wine is since wine is years and years ahead of beer on that front," the chef said.
Gagne believes it's part and parcel with the average consumer's growing awareness of all the products they put into their bodies.
"In general, the population seems a lot more concerned with where their food comes from and what they're eating, so you better have quality local, fresh and seasonal ingredients instead of like, strawberries in February."
The Suds + Spirits dinner is scheduled from 7 to 10:30 p.m. on April 19. Tickets are $50, plus tax and tip. Call Brickworks at 604-962-2929 to reserve your seat.