Cookoffs have become quite the thing with the under-32 crowd in Brooklyn. But Theo Peck and Nick Suarez have hit on a winning combination: No matter what the theme, always include a beer division, too. “We want things to get rowdy,” says Peck. At the pair’s “Experiments,” home-brewers compete on one side of the room and cooks on the other. Sunday’s theme was cheese. Here’s a good blog post about the Experiment they did prior to this.
The event, held in the Bell House, a big indie-rock venue/bar in Gowanus, Brooklyn, was packed and noisy to the point of mayhem (a loud DJ was included). A few of the 17 cookoff contestants ran out of food (one had to serve a single piece of penne pasta per person toward the end), and there was not a napkin in sight. Nonetheless, nobody pushed, whined, or excessively tweeted during the event’s unfolding.
The judges (professional brewers, cheesemongers, and a magazine editor) chose a cold tomato soup with ricotta paired with cheesy crackers as their favorite food entry. But the popular vote went to team Righteous Burn, for their Philly cheesesteaks on miniwaffles, a move of textural genius. (“We were looking for mini pie crusts and saw these,” said team member Dan Vallejl.) The cheese was melted on top with a blowtorch.
There were a few mac ’n’ cheese, lasagne, and enchilada entries, but the other standouts included food blogger Dave Klopfenstein’s delicious Morbier-stuffed slider with Gorgonzola mayo on a Camembert biscuit, and a dulce de leche cheesecake with homemade ricotta by Rebecca Lando. My “best of” vote went to Noah Berland, who, working solo, made little morsels of polenta that he smeared bare-fingered with muddled-on-the-spot pesto, then topped with fresh mozzarella and seared with a torch. He called it “sushi.”
The unanimous favorite of judges and audience in the home-brew category was the Propeller Pale Ale, made by Peter Taylor, Josh Knowlton, and Billy Denniston, roomies from Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It was full of hops, silky smooth, and floral. Brad Hillman from Prospect Heights got props for trying a 100 percent Brettanomyces yeast beer he called 309, which is his address. Of the six other beer contestants, a few had some pretty obvious off flavors—beer is a little harder to make than macaroni and cheese, after all.