Of all the ways to find work as a cook, Andrew Gerson has one of the more interesting posts in a borough with plenty: He’s currently the head chef of Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery.
Gerson — originally from Philadelphia, where he co-founded the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association — says he was tapped for the position not so much because of his beer pairing prowess or knowledge of International Bittering Units (which do come in handy), but because of “a synergy with Garrett’s food philosophy and food values.”
He’s of course referring to Brooklyn Brewery’s esteemed brewmaster Garrett Oliver, who in addition to writing the 2011 Oxford Companion to Beer was a co-founder of Slow Food USA and served on the Board of Counselors of Slow Food International.
Like many chefs today, Gerson is a long-standing proponent of from-scratch cooking, knowing your foodshed and paying heed to craft and tradition even as you innovate. Unlike most others, he is also a graduate of Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy’s Piedmont region. In fact to audition for the brewery job, Gerson made tortellini en brodo, lamb ragu and focaccia, and previously launched pasta pop-ups in Philadelphia and helped open the Brooklyn branch of the famous Roman restaurant Antica Pesa.
If Slow Food’s school gave Gerson deep knowledge of Italian ingredients and culinary sensibilities, today his primary job responsibility is getting to know the terroir of the United States. For the past year he’s been traveling the country for The Mash, a roving Brooklyn Brewery series that curates both local personalities — musicians, activists, comedians, writers — and meals. To make those, Gerson partners with area cooks, food writers and producers for nights like a recent spring dinner on Blackberry Meadows Farm in eastern Pennsylvania, prepared with Pittsburgh chef Justin Severino of the restaurant Cure.
Note that when he’s back home in Brooklyn, Gerson doesn’t get to relax: Instead, once a month, he now partners on “Dinner Party,” a brewery-sponsored series held in conjunction with Humboldt and Jackson, an American-sourced wine, beer and snacks bar in Williamsburg that built out a large kitchen precisely to accommodate events like these.
The goal of Dinner Party, says Gerson (shown at above and center with fellow Dinner Party cooks) is to bring “the Mash back to New York.” Thus far, he’s hosted dinners with Momofuku’s Kaizen Trading Company & The Culinary Lab, and last week, with Brooklyn Grange farm, featured in the photos below. Dinner Party #3, on Wednesday September 24, will focus on Oliver’s 20th year at the Brewery and feature Brooklyn beers and personalities from the past two decades. Tickets go on sale in a few weeks.
Scenes from Dinner Party #2: Brooklyn Grange
Each dinner typically focuses on a particular part of the food system, such as grains, wild game or, in the case of Brooklyn Grange, produce. All are held at Humboldt and Jackson.
The five course meal (six if you count a starter of fried and stuffed shishito peppers with edible flowers and chile pepper dipping sauce paired with a single hop Mr. Wilson’s Western Elixir, shown above) was really about “highlighting the ingredients and summer bounty,” says Gerson.
The first course was a tomato and eggplant board, with cherry tomato confit with a tomato emulsion, arugula pesto, tomato tartare and basil oil. Like many of the dishes at the dinner, says Gerson, this course used one vegetable in many ways: Roasted fairy tale eggplants were also served with an eggplant emulsion, rosemary oil and corn puree. Both was paired with Sorachi Ace, a 7.6% ABV saison made with the floral sorachi ace hop. At school in Italy, Gerson learned about sensory analysis and pairings for ingredients like wine or beer and spirits. “Out of all of those, beer most easily translatable to food,” says Gerson, adding that Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster Garrett Oliver is a master at pairing it.
The second course was seared scallops with brown butter gel and a cherry gastrique, paired with a Gambit, a 9.5 % ABV Sorachi Ace aged in open cognac barrels with blackberries. Gerson is currently using Humboldt and Jackson — whose owners he knows well — as his home base when he’s home in Brooklyn. “It’s sort of become my kitchen,” he jokes. Along with the restaurant’s staff, he often collaborates on the menu with local Brooklyn chefs Jessie Vukoson and her fiancee Brendon Doyle, both of whom also produce Gorilla Hot Sauce. Doyle was formerly one of the head chefs at Brooklyn’s Pork Slope, as well.
The third course was blistered Shishito peppers, gochu hozon from Momofuku’s Kaizen Trading Company, farm cheese and a slow-cooked egg. It was paired with a Wild Streak, a 10% ABV brew aged in bourbon barrels then refermented in the bottle.
The fifth course, seared lamb loin, roasted spiced carrots, carrot ginger emulsion, sage-brown butter croutons and radishes, was one of the few at the Brooklyn Grange dinner to include meat, says Gerson. It was paired with a 2012 Local #2, a 9% ABV Belgian-inspired dark abbey style ale.
Photo credit: Ben Jay