It’s all relative
Taking up the food-pairing challenge is Els Debremaeker, a private chef who also works for home-furnishings chain Dille en Kamille doing food styling and creating recipes. She’s the author with her sister Iris of two books: Brunch and Ingemaakt (Preserved). Given three beers from Omer Vander Ghinste to work with, she drew inspiration from her family’s food memories.
The beer: Vanderghinste Oud Bruin
The dish: Fresh grilled mackerel with roasted rhubarb
This is our aperitief and it’s the perfect way to wake up the senses. Those bold mackerel flavours are balanced by the tanginess in the roasted rhubarb and this in turn goes very well with the balanced sweetness and milk sourness of Vanderghinste Oud Bruin. Overall this pairing offers assertive flavours in the dish balanced with by a thirst-quenching, refreshing and delicately sour beer.
The beer: OMER blond is now the brewer’s most successful brand. Perhaps coincidentally, the former Bockor later decided to change its name back to the original Omer Vander Ghinste.
The dish: Boudin blanc, fennel and apple chutney, crusty bread.
“The minute I opened the beer I thought kermis [the annual fair held in every small town in Flanders]. My grandfather was a butcher in Halle, and for me the smell of kermis is the smell of boudin. The beer reminds me of this.”
The boudin is served simply pan-fried, with a loaf of crusty nut bread. “Normally I would bake it myself but there wasn’t time.” It’s accompanied by a chutney of green apple and fennel, made according to a recipe from Els’s second book. The first, Brunch, went down so well the publisher came looking for a second.
“They asked me to come in for a chat and said they wanted to bring out a second book, and I could choose what it would be about. I said when I was travelling I used to make chutneys and pickles, in China I learned how to make kimchi and they said, ok, let’s do that. It wasn’t at all fashionable then. Now the trend for fermentation and pickling is everywhere, I’m getting a little bit sick of it.”
The boudin has a distinctive peppery flavour, so the chutney is light and fresh – absolutely fresh, as it happens. In three weeks or so the preserve will be at its best.
Boudin is fatty, however, and the Omer, with its light orange and lemon notes and lively carbonation, is perfect for cutting through that fattiness, and cleansing and preparing the palate for the next mouthful. It feels like the kind of beer you could sip all the length of a sunny afternoon, or a typical kermis day, but watch out: at 8% ABV, this one packs a punch.
The beer: Brasserie LeFort
The dish: Pastéis de nata, hazelnuts, Greek yogurt flavoured with verbena.
“The beer has a very nutty flavour, which immediately made me think of pastéis de nata. My grandmother used to make custard tarts. The way I went about this whole challenge was really just to go with the idea that first sprang into my head.”
The free association – something most chefs will tell you is a major source of their influence – led to the celebrated egg tart pastry popular in Portugal and known wherever Portugal had an influence, from Angola to Brazil to even China via Macau. Also known as pastéis de Belém, they’re the sort of delicacy nobody but one’s own (grand)mother can make properly, which doesn’t stop people who are not Portuguese from spending a fortune on them wherever they are found.
Pastéis are all about mouthfeel: flaky, buttery pastry and unctuous egg custard. A beer like Brasserie LeFort, which is nutty and fruity at once, complements that rather bland flavour, together with its roasted malts balanced by pale, a caramel note that echoes the brown patches on the tart where the egg has caramelised. Le Fort, with its subtle alcohol warmth (8.5% ABV) is also well-suited to ending a meal on a high note.