Beer & Food: The more people at the table the better

A “Purely” Pinoy pairing event devised to expand Filipino cultural appreciation

By Chris Leguizamon

With an overflowing cornucopia of culturally varied culinary offerings, San Diego is a food lover’s paradise. Recently, I was inspired by having so many diverse delicacies in such close proximity and started thinking about how beer professionals—myself, included—tend to fall back on the fundamentals of matching the flavors of food and beer when pairing those items. One popular theory is what grows together typically goes together, with examples being a frothy Bavarian hefeweizen with German sausage, a malt-driven extra special bitter with a roasted English game hen or a complex Belgian gueuze with mussels and fries. These couplings are tried-and-true but, inspired in large part by a long overdue movement to celebrate diversity, I found myself yearning to get out of my comfort zone and spotlight not only food from underrepresented cultures but the people behind them.

When setting forth to realize this goal, I was fortunate to find an ally who not only shares my passion for this mission but is also an amazingly skilled craftsman. Enter San Diego Magazine’s reigning Chef of the Year, Phillip Esteban, who is best known locally for helming kitchens for The Cork & Craft and Consortium Holdings, winning an episode of Food Network’s Chopped, and his work to bring together chefs throughout the county to collaborate in the name of experimentation, celebration and charity. Despite his Filipino heritage, growing up in National City (where Filipinos account for roughly 20% of the population) and crafting worldly cuisine, he had yet to focus on the food and flavors he was brought up until last spring when he launched White Rice. That business is built around a simple dish called silog, rice bowls topped with eggs (sous vide eggs in Esteban’s case) and fortified with various proteins and vegetables. Other traditional recipes from his childhood round out White Rice’s menu, as well as a special quartet of dishes he worked up for a virtual pairing event with me and my colleagues at Pure Project Brewing.

That event will take place this Saturday, April 17 and, aside from the obvious aim of presenting flavorful beer and food, we further endeavored to expose participants to Filipino food made using locally and responsibly sourced ingredients. Our theory is that the more we see other cultures being represented in any and all respects, the richer our understanding of the world will grow to be and the more inclusive we will become as a society. It’s something I experienced first hand several years ago after moving cross-country from my childhood home to my current stomping grounds.

I was born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania, where I grew up with very little Asian presence and influence within my community. There was only one Thai restaurant and a handful of all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets my family would frequent. This constituted my understanding of the Far East’s culinary culture during my formative years. Fast forward to my 2014 arrival in San Diego, and my mind was blown by the assortment of multi-cultural gems in almost every neighborhood, many of them serving authentic delicacies from a wealth of Asian countries, including larger nations’ small yet gastronomically distinct regions. I hadn’t come to San Diego seeking a study in cultural diversity, but that’s what I got, and I learned quickly the many assets bestowed upon the region by its various inhabitants.

Citizens of Asian descent account for nearly 20% of the City of San Diego’s population, with more than 200,000 tracing their roots back to the Philippines. Our county is home to the third-largest Filipino population of any in the U.S., yet the beautiful—and delicious—complexity of that nation’s cuisine and cookery is seldom celebrated outside of home kitchens and family gatherings. Working to change that started with an inspirational conversation with the White Rice crew, where Esteban shared his deeply rooted food philosophy.

“Cultural identity within underrepresented communities is a focus of the projects we create,” says Esteban. “White Rice is that curiosity and exploration of our childhood memories and experiences. We hope that these shared spaces resonate with future generations and allow them to tell their own stories”

Something else that was important to both of us was making this a pamilya (Tagalog for “family”) affair. With all of the stay-at-home ordinances and social-distancing of the past year-plus, many of us have felt a longing for a warm family meal and great conversation. We strove for this event to go beyond sight, smell and taste to hopefully strike an emotional chord. Food is nourishment for the mind, body and soul, but we wanted to also wrap in time and place by incorporating inspirations from Baja plus Southern California ingredients.

“You will see an iconic Cesar salad with a twist to pay homage to Tijuana and the Philippines,” says Esteban. “And we had to bring palabok into the mix. It’s one of my father’s favorite dishes and always a favorite at family events.”

To further incorporate San Diego into this dish, I proposed substituting traditional shrimp for box crabs caught by local fishermen through Fish to Families, a meal-distribution program for the food insecure headed by Esteban, which has stepped up in a big way during the COVID-19 crisis. Pure Project beers up the meal’s San Diego and California influence. We selected beers utilizing locally sourced, organic Valencia oranges as well as floor-malted organic or no-till barley from Alameda’s Admiral Maltings and another aged in French oak barrels that previously housed Napa Valley Pinot Noir.

As Esteban so succinctly puts it, “This event is a culmination of the Filipino American experience in Southern California as told through the booming craft-beer scene ” 

As much as I’d like to perpetuate the myth that Advanced Cicerones are right about food-and-beer pairings 100% of the time, I have an admission to make. Sometimes, my suggested pairings are completely wrong. Such was the case with my initial beer selections for this event, where only one of them worked out (and even then you could have tacked on the term “arguably”). Talk about a humbling experience. I sat at the pre-event tasting completely dumbfounded at how off-base I was. But there was a silver lining in that it presented a challenge where our team worked together to find the perfect beers to pair with each dish. The result is four courses of symbiosis stemming from a pure (or, “Pure”) team effort. (Shout out to Jensen Atwood, Devin McGuire, Jamuelle Zumel, Erwin Hines, LeeJ Razalan and Taylor Shaffer on this!)

For every beer professional reading this, I encourage you to challenge yourself to think outside the box of traditional beer-pairing. There are so many incredible cuisines that deserve to be presented to and enjoyed by others. Let’s do our best to show that there’s a place at every table for the food of all people. The same is true of beer. Let’s use our passion as a vehicle to increase inclusivity, awareness and understanding.

White Rice X Pure Project Beer Pairing Dinner Menu

Saturday, April 17 | Tickets available online

First Course: Patis Caesar Salad with Salanova Dipping Lettuce and Pandesal Crunch | Rain Unfiltered Pilsner

Second Course: Palabok Pork & Local Box Crab with Rice Noodles, Sous Vide Eggs, Crispy Garlic and Chicharrones | Bonsai – Black Pine West Coast Double IPA

Third Course: Braised Shortrib Dinuguan with Spicy Gravy, Pickled Shallots and Herbs | Euphorik with Double Peaches Barrel-aged Feral Ale w/ Peaches

Fourth Course: Leche Flan with Condensed Milk Custard, Citrus and Miso Caramel | Tropical Mist Misty Citrus Blonde Ale

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