If there is one thing San Diego knows, it’s craft beer. With over 200 breweries, tasting rooms and craft beer bars lining the streets, the culture is thriving. And with an exploding culinary scene, chefs around the city are experimenting with beer in the cuisine itself. There is no bigger expert in the world of cooking with beer than Sean Paxton, “The Homebrew Chef”.
Known worldwide for his incredible skill in the kitchen, Sean has prepared meals for brewers from 44 countries, plated thousands of dishes at World Beer Cup and the American Homebrew Association National Conference, and has been featured in Esquire, Food & Wine, Wine Enthusiast, Draft and Beer Advocate. He has taught at Le Cordon Bleu, has created his own line of hot sauces, hosts his own podcast, and is currently filming a documentary about cooking with beer.
PACIFIC caught up with the busy entrepreneur between filming and hot sauce invention to find out more.
PACIFIC: How long have you been cooking with beer?
Sean Paxton: 25 years! As a chef, cooking with wine is common, that’s what they teach you. But I was interested in making beer, and I wondered if I could cook with it. I started playing around with different styles and it just blossomed. The more I tasted, the more I wanted to learn and cook. The more I know, the more I don’t know.
What is it about cooking with beer that sets food apart? Why should people give it a go?
Beer is the most complex liquid we cook with. There is a sweet, bitter and yeast component, with all of these different flavors. Beer brings those flavors together. Whether it’s braise, broth or a cookie, we’re playing with different parts of our tongue. You can make a Hefeweizen into a pudding, and it’s the best you’ve had and there’s no bananas in it!
Your accolades are incredible! What's been one of the proudest moments of being The Homebrew Chef?
The world Beer Cup for 2,000 brewers from 44 countries and creating 10,000 plates of food. I spent 600+ hours preparing, researching and testing the recipes and training the staff. It was cool to see people touched by the food and saying, “Wow,” and, “I never would have thought of this.”
For newbies to the cooking with beer game, what are your top tips?
Taste the beer you are cooking with and stop to enjoy what you tasting. Are you tasting citrus, spiciness, smoothness? How do you manipulate that into food?
If the beer is hoppy, like an IPA or double IPA, don’t cook with it. The brewer puts a lot of hops in, so the hop oils concentrate and you are left with astringency and bitterness.
Ask yourself, “Why am I cooking with beer?” If it’s not adding complexity or flavor, why are you adding it? Understand the beer style.
Is there a best beer style to cook with? Most flexible?
A brown ale. I’m sad it doesn’t exist more on the shelves. I think the caramelization of the malt sugars, and how it’s malted, those flavors are like a caramelized onion. When we pan sear, grill or roast an onion, or steak, those flavors are in a brown ale.
What's a no-no in cooking with beer?
Salmon and IPA is a bad combination. They make a metallic flavor, I don’t like having a piece of aluminum foil in my mouth.
Tell us about your new line of hot sauces.
The Eat Beer Hot Sauce line is fun and easy for the end user. I’ve been eating hot sauce for 30 years, and most are vinegar and heat, but not a lot of flavor. These are here to cook with. The NorCal Mole includes Carolina Reaper peppers cooled off with jalapenos, grilled poblano and anchos and oatmeal stout. It’s Mexican umami. You can rub it on tofu or meat and grill it, [put it] on a taco, on beans or eggs in morning. I’ve made it into an aioli and a chocolate mole ice cream sundae. The Yellow Thai Racer is made with Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, kaffir lime, galangal and lemongrass. It’s anti-inflammatory, so it’s a yellow thai curry that’s good for your joints! You can even drop into a beer for a beer cocktail. Five more flavors are coming.
What’s next for The Homebrew Chef?
Look out for a documentary coming later this year, an online cookbook with 550 recipes and growing. I’m sitting on over 600 recipes, so it’s going to be over 1,000 recipes, all different and unique, all with suggestions for breweries that might be in your neighborhood.
Many recipes are free and public, some require sign up, and some are included with a membership of $4.99/month, which provides complete. Members can create shopping lists from recipes using the cart function, and scale and adjust for specific servings or leftovers. Lists can be made on the phone or printed for grocery shopping.
Visit Paxton, The Homebrew Chef, at homebrewchef.com.