Friday, November 11, 2016

Culmination Brewing Introduces New Executive Chef

I was fortunate to be invited to a media preview dinner last week at one of my favorite Portland breweries, Culmination. I have written about them before, when they won Best New Brewery at the Oregon Beer Awards in February. Culmination continues to be my go-to spot for business meetings, catching up with friends, and just enjoying a wide variety of great beer.

If you have visited the brewery in the past couple of months, you are probably aware that Chef Carter B. Owen has moved on to other opportunities. We will all miss Carter and his famous tacos and barbecued meats!

New Executive Chef CJ Mueller is a native Oregonian. He went to New Orleans for school, and, while there, started cooking professionally. Upon returning to Portland he has put in time at some well-regarded restaurants, including Ataula, Bit House Saloon, and Park Kitchen.
Executive Chef CJ Mueller (Photo courtesy of Culmination Brewing)
During the transition period, the Culmination food menu has featured a few popular items from the past like candied bacon and a Cuban sandwich, along with charcuterie plates, poke, and raw oysters. Now that Chef Mueller has had time to get acquainted with the small kitchen, he is serving up more adventurous and labor intensive fare.
Culmination food menu for the first week in November 2016
The focus is on farm-to-table, seasonal ingredients that pair well with the diverse beer styles that the brewery is so adept at creating. The tapas-style dishes are meant to be shared and portions are generous. During the preview dinner, I got to try a few of the items on the current menu, as well as several dishes that may be featured in the near future. Steven Shomler and April Sluiter were our gracious servers while Chef Mueller took a break from the kitchen to introduce each course and Tomas Sluiter described the beer pairings.
First up was chicken liver mousse paired with the 2015 Kriek. I am a fan of all things liver and I was not disappointed! I also love this kriek and thought it stood up to and accentuated the richness of the liver.
The second course was Thompson Farms broccoli topped with sharp cheddar, togarashi, perfect egg and fish sauce. It was paired with the Fresh Hop Farmhouse Ale, which provided a nice counterpoint to the hint of chili pepper spice and mild funkiness of this dish.
The next course was Gruyere & Chanterelles, which is on the current menu, and features heirloom apples, parsnips and thyme. This was also paired with the Fresh Hop Farmhouse. This dish was the essence of fall flavors!
Another current menu favorite is the Charred Beets paired with Vic Secret IPA. The beets were perfectly cooked and slightly crunchy outside but tender within. The arugula, shaved fennel, toasted almonds, and honey vinaigrette introduced a pleasing mix of bitter, sweet and savory flavors to the dish, which the citrusy and piney IPA enhanced.
Next up was Chef Mueller's take on the traditional Irish dish called colcannon. There are many ways to make colcannon, most of which feature potatoes and cabbage. This version was topped with shaved Brussels sprouts, miso gravy, chanterelles, and sliced radishes. Served with Trumpet Major Burton Ale, the caramel and ripe fruit flavors of the beer were once again a perfect match for this dish.
You may have noticed that, besides the chicken liver mousse, none of the previous dishes featured any meat. While I certainly wasn't missing the protein, the next course made up for any deficiencies in that regard. The rare steak (just how I like it!) was cooked sous vide, allowing it to stay moist and soak up the flavor of the soy-butter emulsion, chickory and Romanesco it was finished with. It was paired with the bright, crisp Phaedrus IPA to counterbalance the savoriness of the meat.
While totally satiated, I was actually craving something sweet at this point and Chef Mueller once again delivered with homemade pumpkin pie served with whipped cream made with 4 & 20 Black IPA and finished with a few drops of concentrated pumpkin seed oil. This was paired with New Olde English Stout, a beer created for the 40th Anniversary of beloved local pub Horse Brass. While it is somewhat predictable to pair a dark beer with dessert, it was nice to have something roasty and malty after the hop-forward focus of the previous offerings.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well the chosen beers paired with the food, which was beautifully presented and perfectly executed. The vegetable-centric dishes are not what you normally find in a brewpub and I think they are a welcome change from the typical grilled meats and fried potatoes fare. I'm sure the menu will continue to evolve based on the availability of seasonal ingredients as well as overall demand from the regulars who frequent the pub. I certainly look forward to trying more of Chef Mueller's dishes!