Photos: Highland Tap and Burger chef Elijah Odell wins Pairsine food and beer pairing
"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.
Kevin Galaba Mussels with cream, butter, herbs, potato chips and, of course, beer.
"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.
Kevin Galaba Elijah Odell, executive chef at Highland Tap and Burger in LoHi.
"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.
Kevin Galaba Ten chefs presented twenty dishes, each paired with a different beer.
Keep reading for all the food and beer pairings, and for more photos...
2219 W. 32nd Ave., Denver, CO