Who Will Become Philly's Next Hop Chef?

Four of the city's hottest chefs took a road trip to Brewery Ommegang as friends. This week, they'll become rivals in a beer-pairing cook-off.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 3, 2012

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Chefs on tour: Ommegang brewmaster Phil Leinhart (center) introduces George Sabatino, Nick Elmi, Scott Shroeder and Joe Cicala to the brewery’s output.

Photo by Mat Falco / Philly Beer Scene

Five chefs take a five-hour drive to a brewery. They get a tour, meet the brewmaster, eat dinner, talk food. They taste beer. They take notes. After that, they go to sleep in the quaintest room in the quaintest bed-and-breakfast in the country’s quaintest li’l hamlet, Cooperstown, N.Y. Maybe in the morning they go to the Baseball Hall of Fame. They then drive five hours back to Philly.

Beer. Brew tour. Brewmaster. B&B. Baseball. Back.

That’s the plan, anyway. But one of the five, the one they call The Pretty One, is nowhere to be found. As a result, the others are holed up in South Philly, at the agreed meeting place—a Dunkin’ Donuts on Oregon and Front—staring at one another, waiting for the trip to begin. Then waiting some more. This is followed by more waiting. What’s worse, The Pretty One lives in Bucks County. He still hasn’t left the house.


They begin to form theories about why The Pretty One is running late: (1) He’s masturbating while looking into a mirror. (2) He’s putting on makeup. (3) He’s reading his own stellar press clippings. (4) He’s masturbating while reading his own stellar press clippings.

Every bit of the smack that leaves their lips also makes its way to the fingertips typing on their phones, as the four waiting chefs Tweet these theories to The Pretty One, better known to the public as Jason Cichonski, chef/owner of the much-heralded Queen Village restaurant Ela.

Cichonski and the four chefs waiting for him at Dunkin’—Scott Schroeder, George Sabatino, Nick Elmi and Joe Cicala—will be facing off on Tues., July 10, in the Ommegang Hop Chef Competition, at World Cafe Live. Jon Cichon of Lacroix will compete as well, but prior engagements kept him from making the road trip.

The competition—being held in Philadelphia for the first time after previous matches in Washington, D.C., and Albany, N.Y.—will see Philly’s most talented young chefs cooking with beers from Cooperstown’s Brewery Ommegang, a popular craft brewery owned by Belgian beer titan Duvel. Whichever up-and-coming gourmet takes top honors this week will go on to compete in August against the winners from D.C. and Albany at Ommegang’s gigantic, annual bash, Belgium Comes to Cooperstown.

The Philly chefs are touring the brewery to get a better understanding of the product. They will taste each of the Ommegang beers while Ommegang brewmaster Phil Leinhart tells them about their inspiration, their recipes, the awards they’ve won, the foods they work well with. The chefs will feel in their hands the grains of paradise, star anise, special barleys and other spices, hops and grains used to make the beer.

Cichonski texts. He can’t make it, it turns out. Leave without him.

He and Cichon will miss the beer. They will miss the brew tour. They will miss the B&B. They will miss the baseball.

They will also miss the tequila, and the drinking of beer possessing a very high alcohol-by-volume out of a giant, soiled tip jar.

They will miss the morning after, when a panicked Ommegang Philly rep fears a missing Sabatino may be dead. (“He drank a lot, you guys. He’s really small, you guys. I’m really worried, you guys.”) They will miss 1,000 dick jokes, and 2,000 homoerotic suggestions.

On July 10, these men will be all business, showcasing their imaginative gourmet skills and vying for the title of Hop Chef. They will be serving 250 guests and some serious guest judges: Art Etchells of Foobooz, Top Chef contestant Jen Carroll, Emilio Mignucci of Di Bruno Bros. and Mat Falco of Philly Beer Scene magazine, who also spent time with the chefs at the Brewery Ommegang. But before that, it’s time to cut loose. Real loose.

This is the Ommegang Hop Chef pre-party and brewery tour. Strap in.

Four chefs take a five-hour drive to a brewery…

On this five-hour trip, they break one another’s balls mercilessly. The van, in essence, is a rolling kitchen—nothing is sacred, and everything is fair game to be picked on, joked about or generally maligned: wardrobe, appearance, tattoos, mothers, drug habits, food choices, veganism. Many of these good-natured insults end up on Twitter, as the chefs have been instructed by the Ommegang brass who are paying to drive them out and put them up to hashtag everything they tweet on the trip #HopChef in order to drum up publicity.

They do so dutifully, with gratuitous use of the word fuck and several jokes about figurative and literal sausage and tongues thrown in for good measure. You know: chefs being chefs.

So here’s the tale of the tape of the four who sausaged and tongued their way to Cooperstown and back. Place your wagers:

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