01 May 2008

Guest Post: Shawn Connelly, BeerPhilosopher.com - Top Chef, Bottom Beers

A little while back we had a fine dining and beer discussion spurred on by a guest posting by Potable Curmudgeon and New Albanian Brewing Company headman Roger A. Baylor.

The issue of food and beer came up again recently for those of us who watch Bravo's Top Chef, in an episode the prominently featured beer and food pairings as a quick-fire challenge.

I had plenty of thoughts on the episode, and shortly after I came across the following post by BeerPhilosopher.com's Shawn Connelly. Shawn did a nice job of pointing out the same frustrations I had when viewing the episode, so I asked him if we could reprint his post. He was nice enough to grant us permission.

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I have my wife to thank (or blame) for getting me hooked on reality TV shows. We watch Survivor, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Rock of Love (I and II – what can I say, I was something of a rocker throughout the hair band era and Poison elicits a certain nostalgia …), Gene Simmons Family Jewels (ditto), Deadliest Catch, Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef with regularity. I bet I'm even forgetting a few. We DVR everything and watch 3-4 of these random episodes in rapid succession, sans commercials. It’s amazing how much TV you can watch when you’re skipping the commercial breaks. If you think about it, doing it this way is not unlike watching a 2-hour movie, commercial free. It’s TV concentrate.

I’m not necessarily proud of the fact that we’ve somehow become reality TV junkies, but cramming this much pseudo-reality drama-dy into your head in quick succession does give you a unique perspective on pop culture and obvious degradation of our society … Maybe we do it to validate in our own minds that we’re relatively normal compared to the train-wrecks often witnessed on these shows, but somehow I doubt this is a sufficient excuse for watching random people voluntarily making fools of themselves on national TV.

But maybe it is … who’s got the pop corn?

The last show I mentioned, Top Chef, is in its fourth season now, I believe. In a recent episode, the hopefuls were challenged to create a dish to pair with beer. The contestants went through a blind tasting and then selected their brew of choice to inspire their dish. I don’t recall if the rules stated that they had to use their beer in the actual recipe, but I do know it was to be paired with the food at the very least for the judges consideration. Most of these crack chefs (and I do mean crack) opted for the worst of the worst light American lager swill overwhelmingly. A couple proclaimed that they “don’t cook with beer” as if it were somehow beneath them and their refined culinary skills. After all the selections were made, and the dishes were prepared, hopeful Jennifer’s beignets won, paired with … Landshark Lager.

This post obviously has little to do with beer, specifically, but it does have to do with the perception of beer among professed “foodies.” Obviously, I don’t feel in my admitted amateur opinion that this line up of chefs necessarily represent the cream of the crop when it comes to young chefs in America, but I do think their attitudes toward beer and its place alongside “respectable cuisine” is telling. These guys are seen at the end of each episode waiting for the winner(s) to be announced, puffing away at their cigarettes and slamming down what appears to be Michelob lager straight from the bottle. Do most chefs chain smoke like that? If so, that might explain why they don’t know good beer from rancid dishwater … they’ve managed to puff away any remnant of a palate they might have once had.

At least Top Chef gave beer a nod in this particular episode, but rather than assembling a selection of fine craft beers for the contestants to select from, they opted to offer mostly swill – whatta ya wanna bet they wouldn’t do that if the pairing was with wine? I don’t wanna sound bitter, but c’mon. This season's show takes place in Chicago ... where's the Goose Island beer?

Oh well, I suppose there is something fitting about mediocre chefs with their mediocre beer.


  1. While I don't completely agree with the thoughts contained in the post (I wouldn't consider them all crack chefs), I think he's got a point, especially if you make the beer/wine comparison.

  2. I agree, but I think it is that way in the culinary world. I love No Reservations from Anthony Bourdain and you see him eating these amazing meals around the world and he will be drinking a macro light lager almost every time. Once episode though he did in Cleveland did showcase Great Lakes, but that is the only episode I've seen where craft beer was involved.

    Dinner Impossible on FoodTv just did one two weeks ago with Michelob's new line up of "crafting a better beer" beers. It was really interesting what Chef Robert did with them, and I am going to try some of them as well based on the show.

    In the culinary world though top dining eateries still haven't come around yet. I still think much has to do with pricing/demand from consumers. Wine for some reason people seem ready to spend 200-300% markup for it, but beer is a different story. Look at Shallow's on the soutside. They have a mountain of rare beer because they think it is alright to charge 19.99 for a bottle of Founders KBS. A beer geek that is that hard up might pay it, but I highly doubt your average joe would, but that same average joe will pay 12 dollars a glass for Chianti Ruffino at Johnny Carino's when a whole of it only costs 5 bucks at the grocery store.

  3. "I love No Reservations from Anthony Bourdain and you see him eating these amazing meals around the world and he will be drinking a macro light lager almost every time."

    I'm with you Matt. Love the show, but cringe every time he reaches for macro swill. I wonder if he might open his eyes a bit if he did a show in Brussels.

  4. I also enjoy Bourdain's show ... should've added that one to my list, I suppose! The problem with Anthony going to Brussels is he's likely to frequent more commercial establishments where they (and a good percentage of the population of Belgium) drink Juliper, so he wouldn't be much better off.

  5. I have kind of mixed feelings on the subject. On one hand, they're at least pairing or cooking with beer, which you wouldn't have seen just a few years ago. On the other hand, they're reinforcing the general assumption that beer is light lager. I understand that with shows like these, advertising dollars are king and no one has more in the beer world than light lager, so we're going to be hard pressed to see a really good showing of craft beer.

    I do think we're headed in the right direction, and in a few years time we might actually start seeing different styles of beer for pairing and cooking, but this whole movement is still young and there is still a long way to go. Then again, I would be glad to pay $20 for Kentucky Breakfast Stout at a bar.

  6. I miss a show that was on a channel that I can't remember right now, but it was called Beer Nutz and was paired with a show call Three Sheets.

    Beer Nutz traveled the country exploring the world of craft beer and good beer bars, but it was cancelled after about 10 shows for some reason.

  7. My buddy Eli over at Confessions of a Beer Geek is a big fan of that series - I've not seen it, but here's a link to the current (?) season - http://www.mojohd.com/mojoseries/threesheets/episodes/view/chile

  8. three sheets is pretty good. after you see 3-4 episodes though you start to realize that they seem to have about 12 minutes of footage that they stretch out, rplay and otherwise edit to fit the time slot. they do touch on some "beer culture" but it's basically a show about a guy getting sloshed so it's not all that informative or involved. for example the belgian show didn't even mention sour beer, and that seemed like a obvious place to go because they seem to seek out the alcohol that sets the region apart.

    but i'll still keep watching. it's an entertaining half hour.