"Awesome, awesome, awesome." That's how chef Elijah Odell describes winning the seventh annual Pairsine food and beer pairing competition last night at the Omni Interlocken Resort in Broomfield. Pairsine, which is a combination of the words "pair" and "cuisine," challenged chefs to create beer-friendly dishes, and present them with the beer that best accompanied each dish. Ten chefs competed, each presenting two beer and food pairings. Odell drew inspiration for his dishes from both European restaurants and his family's favorite Denver dining destinations.
"It's all about teamwork and people and my team," Odell says. "If you can be as lucky as I am, to settle in with a team that treats each other like family and supports each other, you really have a recipe for success." Odell is executive chef at Denver's Highland Tap and Burger, a restaurant he helped open in 2010.
"This is my first time doing this event," Odell continues. "I'll be looking forward to it next year, knowing what I'm going into." He admits he was a bit nervous during the competition: "There's always those jitters and logistical things you don't know about while doing a first-time event."
One of Odell's winning dishes was inspired by a frequent stop on South Colorado Boulevard. "My favorite bite was a dish that's a favorite at home," he say. "It's from the little Indian buffet near our house, where we like to eat as a family. The vegetarian dishes are better than the meat dishes. Our favorite dish is the sweet potato masala."
For the competition, Odell switched up that recipe by adding meat. "I got a bone-in leg of lamb," he explains. "I braised it off and put a hint of smoke on it, to pair with the beer. I really, really love that dish." Odell's masala was accompanied by papadum. The crispy, baked flour chips helped to scoop up the soupy meat and potato combination.
Odell's second entry was a recreation of a meal he enjoyed while on vacation. "Three years ago I was in Belgium," he recalls. "I was lucky enough to be drinking sweet, unfiltered Belgian ales with briny, salty mussels and French fries. We did a take on that, and did potato chips instead of french fries."
That wasn't the only switch. In Belgium, white wine is traditionally used to make the dish called moules frites. "We cooked the mussels in the beer, so you can't go wrong there," he says. "The first time I cooked mussels in beer instead of white wine, it kind of felt wrong. When I tasted it, it blew me away."
Mussels and fries are on Odell's menu at Highland Tap and Burger, where he steams Prince Edward Island mussels in White Rascal, an unfiltered Belgian wheat beer. At Pairsine, Odell used Fate Brewing Company's Nona, a similar beer that contains more hops -- and therefore more bitterness -- than White Rascal. "It was a little bit more challenging with the Fate," he notes. "They dry-hopped it, which upped the acidity levels. So what I did was increase the fat levels, add a little extra cream, a little extra butter."
"At Highland Tap and Burger you can get the best steamed mussels in town," Odell adds. "We've got Avery White Rascal on tap all summer."
A panel of judges selected Odell's pairings as the night's winners. Chef Drew Watson, of Hops & Pie, won the Most Creative' category, while chef Jonathan Power, of The Populist, won honorable mention. The People's Choice award went to Chef Kyle McCune, executive chef at the Meritage at the Omni Interlocken Hotel.
Keep reading for all the food and beer pairings, and for more photos... Chef Elijah Odell, Highland Tap and Burger Smoked leg of lamb, sweet potato masala, cilantro, papadum Paired with: Hop Box Imperial IPA, Joseph James Brewing
Steamed mussels, shallots, herbs, lemon zest, sea salt, potato chips Paired with: Nona (Belgian blonde ale), Fate Brewing Company
Chef Drew Watson, Hops & Pie Crispy confit pork belly, cherries, plums, dark chocolate Paired with: The Dissident (Sour Brown Ale), Deschutes Brewery
Mascarpone-maple panna cotta, hazelnuts, bacon brittle, blueberries Paired with: The Regulator (dopplebock), Rahr & Sons Brewing Company
Chef Jonathan Power, The Populist Short rib meatballs with beets, honey, hoisin sauce Paired with: Cap'n Long (ESB), 300 Suns Brewing
Smoked trout rillettes and rosemary-apricot gremolata on potato chips Paired with: 26" Cascade Pilsner, Full Sail Brewing
Chef Kyle McCune, Meritage at The Omni Interlocken Braised beef cheeks with grilled heirloom grit cake, cured pork cheeks, herbs, demi glace, crispy leeks Paired with: The Noble One (quadrupel), High Hops Brewery
Halibut cheek ceviche with smashed plantain tostada, citrus, avocado, melon, peppers, tomato Paired with: The Weize One (hefeweizen), High Hops Brewery
Chef Brandon Muncy, The Lobby Hot sausage and peppers on a house-smoked bun, chipotle aioli Paired with: 1956 Golden Ale, Bootstrap Brewing
Bacon espresso liver pate on rustic focaccia bread Paired with: The Enforcer, 1933 Brewing Company
Chef Chris Cina, Breckenridge-Wynkoop 50/50 slider with charred onions, Figueroa Mountain Danish red mustard, pretzel bun Paired with: Danish red lager, Figueroa Mountain Brewing
Red chili-wild King salmon tostada Paired with: Paradise Road Pilsner, Figueroa Mountain Brewing
Chef Joe Troupe, Lucky Pie Pizza & Taphouse Chicken ballotine with port wine raspberry sauce, pickled mustard seeds Paired with: Counter Clockwise (American wild ale), Destihl Brewery
Cinnamon toast cheesecake with spiced almond brittle, salted caramel Paired with: The Muse (Belgian golden ale), Angry Orchard
Chef Lucas Forgy, Freshcraft Barbecued chicken confit with blueberry hoecakes Paired with: Kraftig Light (lager), William K. Busch Brewing Company
Coconut mole ceviche Paired with: Samuel Adams Double Bock
Chefs Jon Mendoza and Jamey Freeman, Bad Apple Halibut brandade tots, sourdough cream, cured egg yolk, pickle chips Paired with: Out of Order Porter, Wind River Brewing Company
Barbecued corvina, malted hazelnut crumb, cornbread puree, hopped molasses vinaigrette Paired with: Black Knight (black lager), Fat Head's Brewery
Chef Michael Wahaltere, Dorchester Social Eatery Marinated shrimp with cucumber, red onions, tomato, strawberries, spices, on a tostada. Paired with: Be Hoppy (IPA), Wormtown Brewing Co.
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Meatballs with onions, golden raisins, beer sauce Paired with: Epic Barley Wine, Epic Brewing Company