It all started last September when a food a travel writer from Honk Kong was coming to Prague on assignment from the magazine she works for. She needed someone to help her out with the local beer scene and fellow blogger Brewsta told her to contact me.
We agreed to have lunch at a brewpub on a Wednesday in early October and then to visit a couple more pubs to show her what all this čtvrtá pípa thing was about.
The evening before our meeting she sent me a message saying that a last minute interview had come out at a restaurant in the centre of Prague. She was supposed to be there at two, so she asked me if we could meet for lunch a bit earlier. To make up for the inconvenience, she said I could join her and her photographer in the interview. I saw no problem with that, I'm not the kind of person that would easily refuse the possibility of a free meal or two.
The restaurant in question turned out to be Cèleste. We were greeted by Lubo, the manager and, much to my surprise, he not only remembered me from my first and only visit more than a year before, but he also welcomed me warmly.
The interview went really well, we tasted some of the specialties of the house (very good) and got to meet the Head Chef, Gwendal Le Ruyet, a friendly bloke from La Bretagne.
Just as the meeting was coming to a close, Gwendal surprised me by saying that he would love to put together a Czech beer and food pairing menu. Needless to say, I offered him my help.
Due to life and work, it wasn't until a month or so ago that we were finally able to meet to start realising that idea. I liked Gwendal's plan a lot. He wouldn't pick a few courses from the regular menu and then the beers. He wanted to choose the beers first and then cook something for them. My task would be to make a list of 15 to 20 different beers and from them we would select the ones that would make it to the menu.
We met for that purpose a couple of weeks ago. Me and Lubo brought a selection of Czech beers from the Zlý Časy bottle shop and I sat with Gwendal to taste them (and I put emphasis on the “tasting”, we really took a few sips of each).
Being the good chef that he is, Gwendal already had an outline of the seven courses of the tasting menu, he had basically chosen the main ingredient of each, and with that foundation, we chose the beers that would go with them and discussed how those ingredients could be prepared and served with.
It was a great experience working with him. We got along really well and our minds were really in tune with each other. But that wasn't for me the most exciting thing. Gwendal will the first to tell you that he doesn't know anything about beer, words like Pale Ale and Weizenbock are completely alien to him. And yet, it was wonderful to see his enthusiasm with the drink and the differences between each of the beers. This shows that you don't really need to bother getting into too much, if any, detail when you want to “evangelise” someone (at least not at the beginning), the best thing you can do is let the beer do the talking.
It took a couple of hours of exchanging ideas to finally put together the beer list. We chose six Czech beers and we agreed that it would be a good idea to bring a foreign one for the dessert, just to show that Czechs are not the only ones that can brew. The result of all this work is the following:
- Raw Langoustine with Menton lemon. Served with: Primátor Weizenbier
- Blue organic poached egg, pancetta, aspargus and gorgonzola piccante. Served with: Ferdinand Sedm Kuli
- Foie gras terrine. Served with: Svijanský Rytíř
- Sole, Eel or Turbot "a la diable". Served with: Eggenberg Nakouření Švihák
- Pork in grass, légumes au miel: Served with: Matuška Tmavé
- French beer cheese. Served with: Jihlavský Grand
- Surprise dessert. Served with: Lindemans Faro
Quite interesting, I think. I'm really excited about the fish and smoked beer pairing. It was Gwendal's idea, by the way. The rest, I believe are fairly expected.
But what I like the most about the pairings is that all of the six Czech beers are of the regular kind, nothing exotic or extreme and, with the exception of Matuška's, they are all “industrial”. And even the Faro, put in a Belgian context, could also be considered regular. This shows that you don't need “glamour”, or any other of the bollocks Ferrán Adriá and his ilk claim are a must to bring beer into the upmarket restaurants, what you need is open-minded people who are more interested in offering quality and something new to their clients rather than in getting free glasses, signs and other merchandising from brewers.
One a more personal note. I've been nagging for quite some time about how little upmarket restaurants and their gurus care about beer, so it's very rewarding to finally be able to do something concrete about it. I truly hope this dinner will be successful, not for my own sake and not so much for the sake of the staff of Cèleste, hard working people who are committed to quality, but because if this turns out well other similar events might follow and maybe not only in Cèleste, who knows?
Oh, yeah, I was almost forgetting, I'll be hosting the dinner. I'm quite excited about it.
The event takes place on Wednesday, March 9, the cost is 2000CZK per person, for those who want the 7 course menu, incl. beers (guests can also choose separate items from the menu) and reservations can be made here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dinner with Czech beer and French food
Wednesday March 9, 2011, 19hs
Dancing Building - Rašínovo nábřeží 80