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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Four chefs are running way late to a brewery. They’re starving. The rest-stop Quizno’s they had on the way up to Cooperstown didn’t help their grumbling stomachs.

Once in Cooperstown, it’s a quick check in at the bed-and-breakfast, Tunnicliff Inn, whose interiors are set to “Grandmother”: maroon carpets, seashell couches, Easter colors. The Inn’s just up the street from the Baseball Hall of Fame, and everything about it, and this town, screams AMERICA at top volume. Only town isn’t quite right—it’s more a very large baseball theme park disguised as a town.

Once bags are dropped off, dumps are taken, and significant others are called, it’s off to Brewery Ommegang.

On site, the chefs make the acquaintance of Ommegang brewmaster Phil Leinhart, a very tall, thin man who speaks slowly and deliberately, and knows more varieties of hops than Justin Bieber has Twitter followers. Leinhart talks to the chefs about the six beers they’ll be choosing from to cook with—Duvel Golden Ale, Three Philosophers, Abbey Ale Dubbel, Hennepin Saison, Rare Vos Amber Ale, Witte Wheat Ale—and what each is spiced with, be that star anise, grains of paradise, orange peel or coriander. The chefs listen as best they can while drinking said beers on empty stomachs and snacking on a variety of cheeses and cured meats that have been laid out.

Here as in the van, the chefs talk to one another about purveyors, media types, Laban bells, incredible dishes they’ve had. Where can I find consistent scallops? Who has really great produce at a fair price? Why won’t Sysco leave me the fuck alone?

None of them—Schroeder, Cicala, Sabatino, Elmi—is threatened by the talents of any of their peers on the trip, and each exhibits a refreshing lack of professional jealousy. In fact, it’s completely absent.

“That comes from respect,” Elmi says later. “We each have respect for one another and what each of us is doing. And we’re all very different—our styles, our techniques—but we appreciate one another’s abilities.

“Ten years ago it wasn’t like this,” he adds. “Your recipes were your recipes. You didn’t share info. You found a good seafood guy, you kept him to yourself.”

Now, Elmi and the others agree, that old world philoso-ME has been turned on its head. Chefs in Philly realize that the more people eat well, the more they spread the word. As more and more restaurants serve outstanding food, and pour outstanding drink, the more the food community around them knows. The more they know, the more they grow.

The chefs are pulled away from the tasting room just as things begin to get rowdy. They are served a proper dinner in Ommegang’s café. More beer is poured.

A brief summary of phrases uttered during dinner would look like this:

• “Turbidity meter.”

• “I’ve eaten more meat than anyone in this room combined.”

• “Yeah, but we’re not talking about sex.”

• “Hashtag-nice-hat.”

• “Hashtag-this-hangover’s-going-to- suck.”

• “Delilah’s Dollars.”

• “If I wanted to see boobs and not get laid I would’ve stayed married.”

• “Foie Fridays.”

• “I hate those Smurfs!”

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