One of the Best Dinner Parties in Brooklyn Is at a… Museum

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It’s no surprise to me: I demonstrated great courage by confronting and consuming the ghoulish group of Ghost Bottles that were served at a jovial event celebrating Garrett Oliver’s 20th anniversary as Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster in 2014.
The bash was part of Brooklyn Brewery’s annual series, Dinner Party, which is helmed by its chef and head of culinary programming, Andrew Gerson. A native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences, Gerson elevates the traditional beer-dinner model with focused, forward-thinking concepts drawing from a wide range of cultural influences.
Dinner Party is returning for a third series on April 28, reformatted with a new objective: “to take on the flavor and atmosphere of some of our borough’s most interesting spaces.” Each of the dinners will feature a menu thoughtfully assembled by Gerson and inspired by their respective venues, and accompanied by rare, intriguing brews (remember my slogan: Beer, Not Fear!).
The first site is Williamsburg’s Museum of Food and Drink, and guests will be amid its current exhibition, “Flavor: Making It and Faking It.” We phoned Gerson for a quick chat.
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Niko Krommydas: This is Dinner Party’s third series, and its focus is different than in previous years. What’s new?
Andrew Gerson: The new series is all about the people and places that inspire me in Brooklyn. I guess you could say that about all of the series we’ve done to some degree, but this time we’re collaborating with the people who we think are on the forefront of culinary innovation, and who are reshaping the way we interact with food and drink. These are people using their physical space to achieve that, and in really exciting ways. The dinners are giving our guests a chance to experience that excitement.
NK: As a refresher, what were the themes of Dinner Party’s first two series?
AG: 
The first year was showcasing and celebrating the things that make up our local food system: the ingredients, but also the farmers, fishermen, butchers, cheese makers, and artisans who produce them. For the second [series], last year, we partnered with the Brooklyn Historical Society to dive into the city’s rich culinary and beverage history. Those menus were inspired by specific periods of the past.

NK: The first venue in the latest series is the Museum of Food and Drink. As you started to assemble the menu, what about the space inspired you?
AG: Anyone who’s ever sat down and discussed food or drink with Peter Kim [the museum’s executive director] and his team can’t help but be inspired to explore and try new things. The museum itself, it’s really a space for everyone to explore food through play, to approach it with a childlike curiosity that I think is really lacking in today’s food world. That’s basically how I approached creating the menu and the two interactive stations to visit. I spent a lot of time in the space, interacting with the “Flavor…” exhibition, and chatting with Peter. I’m really excited for people to come and experience it.

NK: The three-course meal promises to “engage all of your senses.” Can you briefly tell us about each course?
AG: 
The first really focuses on the rebirth of spring around this time, and how we’re transitioning from this cold-weather phase to something more warm and enjoyable. And that’s something that feels right to celebrate with a lot of vegetables.
The second course has a lot of interactive elements to it. We’ll be doing a pour-over of soup over the fish, and I think we’re going to be using seashells as a vessel for the herb oil. We’ll also probably have a reveal element to it, maybe like a seaweed cover that gets lifted.

For the third [course], there’s been a lot of curious children wandering around every time I’ve been to the museum, and I love to see food education being taught and explored at an early age. Going with that theme, and wanting to incorporate a whole animal somewhere into the menu, what kept popping into my head was Peter Rabbit. I mean, what child doesn’t enjoy rabbits? So this touches on the educational aspect, showing how the rabbit can be transformed into a source of food.

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NK: Each of these meals will be paired with a Ghost Bottle, which are Brooklyn’s elusive series of experimental barrel-aged beers not available publicly. Why incorporate these, and not the brewery’s portfolio?
AG: I think [our Ghost Bottles] seem to fit what the Dinner Party series is all about, which is pushing the boundaries of flavor. I look at both the beer and the food components of [Dinner Party] as testing grounds, areas fit for experimentation and play, and the bonus is if that can lead to not only something new, but something good.
For the Ghost Bottles, that means joining our roster of Brooklyn Quarterly Experiment (BQE) bottles. And for the food, the challenge of nailing dishes inspired by these beers is a great one for me. [Ghost Bottles] are some of the most complex I’ve ever been able to taste and work with, and the best part is there are constantly new ones surfacing.

NK: How did you choose what Ghost Bottles to use for this first dinner?
AG: 
I regularly sit with Garrett and our barrel team and we taste through the new Ghost Bottles they’re working on and we riff on everything from flavor profile to mouthfeel, and the stories that inspired them. All of those factors go into creating the dishes.

NK: What’s your favorite of the three Ghosts being featured?
AG: 
I’d have to go with Kriek, which is paired with the third course. That was one of the first [Ghost Bottles] I ever tried, about three years ago. I love what a bourbon barrel can do to a beer, and the addition of cherries to the dark base gives it a kind of forceful funk, from the natural Brett [anomyces] yeast coming off the cherries.
This beer also tells a beautiful story about the entire series and what it exemplifies, because this is a beer that eventually turned up in another series, the BQE.
NK: K Is For Kriek.
AG: 
Right. The one we’ll have at the dinner is the original-original version—the beer that inspired the Ghost Bottle version, which then inspired K Is For Kriek. That makes sense, right? [Laughs.]
NK: It does!
AG: 
What’s cool about this beer is that it’s been aging for three years now, so there’s a ton of flavor evolution. It’s going to be fun to see what people think of it and how it pairs with the whole rabbit.
NK: In addition to the three courses, the dinner will have an “Improved Old Fashioned sensory bar” and a “kimchi and IPA station.”
AG: I tried looking at the dinner itself like an exhibition, and I like to think of these two extras as art installations. They really add an interactive element, whereas most times a beer dinner is just a sit-down experience.
NK: How will the sensory bar be presented?
AG: It’s designed to be a tour through Improved Old Fashioned’s individual ingredients and brewing process. We did something similar for its release party at the brewery last month, and if you remember we also did it with another big BQE, Intensified Coffee Porter.
For Old Fashioned’s release, we brought together a lot of different cultural components that represent what the beer is. There was jazz music from our friend Chris Cuzme, these shortbread cookies I made using different spices and herbs, and my favorite, tastings of the beer side by side with an Old Fashioned cocktail. So expect something similar to that.
We’ll actually be featuring Improved also as our dessert beer, paired with a spiced shortbread ice-cream sandwich with aromatics used in the beer itself. Your readers are the first to know that little goodie.
NK: Thank you. What about the kimchi station?
AG: When we were discussing the dinner, I asked Peter about the culinary traditions that had been important to him throughout his life, and to relay any strong food memories from his childhood. And he immediately brought up kimchi. It just so happens that my wife is an avid cooker and there’s always one or two jars [of kimchi] fermenting in our apartment, so I’ll be taking some of her base recipes and toying with them.
We’ll basically have three different kimchis—based on what produce I can gather locally at the Greenmarket—paired with three of our IPAs. The IPA style is more full-flavored and can really handle heat well; IPAs can stand up to and compliment the kimchi flavors.
NK: I’d like to ask you a few career questions before we finish. You’ve worked as Brooklyn’s chef and head of culinary programming since 2013. How did you originally connect?
AG: Brooklyn and Garrett have always been supporters of the local food movement, of Slow Food, and of celebrating deliciousness in a cool and conscious way. So during my audition, [Garrett and I] started talking about our love of good food and good beer, and how they can bring together good people for celebration. I think we immediately realized we share the same philosophy and food values, so we clicked naturally.
Just having the ability to work side by side with Garrett as a mentor is incredible. I see our passions as the winning combination to grow our experimental portfolio and continue to strive for deliciousness in the glass and on the plate.
NK: When did pairing food and beer “click” for you? When you joined Brooklyn?
AG: I’ve cooked for a long time, but I think my two-year master’s program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy really helped shape and strengthen my approach to food and drink and, before I knew it, further aligned my values with those of the brewery. So much of the coursework was based on sensory analysis and understanding beverages and their ability to pair with food and how to speak about these relationships in a way that can be accessible. It was the perfect foundation to build for the types of dinners and events we host.
NK: Lastly—you once said that “Beer [is] most easily translatable to food.” Why is that?
AG: 
It’s incredibly versatile and allows for so much more breadth when it comes to pairing. Looking back now, I realize I knew so little [about beer] before joining Brooklyn compared to what I know now. Over the last few years I’ve been exposed to so many new styles, brewers, breweries, and pairing possibilities in my travels. Now I feel like there isn’t a dish out there that I couldn’t find a beer to pair with.
Brooklyn Brewery’s Dinner Party returns on April 28, at the Museum of Food and Drink in Williamsburg. Tickets are available now.
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