Sunday, March 27, 2016

WEEK 73--When Fine Dining met Craft Beer---a chat with Chef Dan Bark

the mere mentioning of the word "Fine Dining" would most likely triggers these images----high end food, fancy environment & tableware, famous chef, and most certainly---WINE & DINE.

That's right--fine dining is almost automatically associated with Wine from the beginning of mankind.
But nope--today we gonna talk about something very different--BEER & DINE.
FINE DINING是什么?优质食材,明星厨师,精致摆盘,优雅环境等字眼开始蹦跳出来,更延伸至米其林星级,高档葡萄酒等等。这其中,美食配美酒像是由来已久的定律,英文说的WINE AND DINE
不过,这期聊的是完全不同概念的BEER AND DINE

一切要由宁愿放下米其林三星餐厅副主厨身份,从零开始打造全亚洲唯一啤酒配搭美食为主的CASUAL FINE DINING餐厅的年轻美籍韩裔主厨DAN BARK聊起。。。

For those uninitiated--there's a first of its kind casual fine dining place in Bangkok since the past 5 months-- and yes--it's on the upper floor of Mikkeller Bangkok--hence the name UPSTAIRS--run by former sous chef of Grace-- a Michelin 3 star restaurant in Chicago.
So why would a Michelin 3 star sous chef give up his position to start from scratch in a totally new environment in Bangkok?--let's talk to Dan Bark about what and why and how this whole idea started:-   (*the Chinese newspaper version is a compressed one for basic understanding by general public--the English version here is the complete chat)
#from Chicago to Bangkok—from Michelin 3 stars restaurant to a whole new start—most would call it a huge decision---what prompted that idea?
It was by far the hardest and the biggest decision I had to make.  Being a sous at a restaurant like Grace is a huge honor.  You have endless resources, you get to work with the most talented and passionate cooks, and you get to learn under a great chef.  Leaving Chef Curtis was extremely difficult but when you want to become a great chef, you have to eventually leave the nest and fly on your own.  
The idea of opening a restaurant in Bangkok was sparked when I came here for a week vacation couple years ago.  There is a huge potential here.  Lots of things need to get done and changed but the potential is definitely there.  But once I returned back to Chicago, I never really thought about it.  I just kept my head down and focused on Grace.  After about a year, lots of different aspects of my life started to fall in place which was really pointing me to Bangkok.  I am a man of faith and it was strictly through faith that I was able to leave the best job, best chef, and all my friends and family to come here.
#Prior to Mikkeller Bangkok—what’s your take on craft beer?—since fine dining is all about wine.
To be honest, I never really put lot of thought into it.  Beer to me at that time was something to just quench my thirst after a busy service.  I would enjoy a nice Half Acre and Three Floyds on our days off BBQing with friends once in a while but it wasn't something I committed myself to learn.  Prior to Mikkeller, I did enjoy craft beer but I never even thought about pairing it with fine dining.
问:来曼谷“米吧”之前,对CRAFT BEER的态度是?
答:“这之前,CRAFT BEER只是工余轻松一下的饮料,并没有对啤酒狂热,更谈不上想配搭美食。”
#Upstairs—I believe is the First casual fine dining restaurant that emphasis on food & beer pairing/experience in ASIA---what was the thinking behind?
The first part is the casual fine dining.  I always enjoyed eating fine dining menu, but I never really liked the stiffness of lots of the fine dining restaurants that I dined.  I never really felt I could just be myself and enjoy the experience, but I had to somehow be a better version of myself to belong in the dining room.  So the first thing we wanted to make sure is that we offer the best quality of food and service of fine dining but also keep it casual and friendly.  
Once I started to talk with Jakob and hear the stories behind all the beer, I realized that same amount of work, passion, failures, and determination goes into making these craft beer just as much as wine.  So the principles of a fine product was already there for the craft beers.  And once I started to taste all the different styles of craft beer and a true fresh hoppy IPA, and funky lambicks, and a dark intense stouts, I realized we could definitely give our diners a memorable experience.
答“首先就是轻松自在的享受美食---CASUAL FINE DINING。我去很多星级餐厅用过餐,不少餐厅让人觉得不自在。在跟曼谷”米吧“老板之一JAKOB深入了解啤酒真谛後发现原来CRAFT BEER和美食一样,都包含了酿酒师信念,尝试,失败,坚持, 而类别繁多,口味风格变化多端的不同啤酒特色更是让我尝味後坚信可以通过美食啤酒配搭营造难忘的味蕾享受。”
#Tell us what’s the format like at Upstairs—understand that you have a full course beer pairing tasting menu?—do people always have to do the full course or there’s a la carte menu for “small eaters”?
Our menu is 10 course tasting menu with beer pairing.  We don't offer smaller menu or a la carte because I want dining at Upstairs to be an experience and not just eating out.  Lots of thoughts goes into individual dishes and the progression of the menu.  We want to give our diners a show and tell a story through our menu.  For me, eating a tasting menu is like going to the movies.  There are up and downs, suspense and climax.  To do a la carte from a tasting menu would be like walking out in middle of the movie; you might get the story but you don't get the full effect.  However, we have a great a la carte menu in the main bar for people that are not looking for the full tasting menu experience.
#It is common for people to link fine dining with wine but NOT beer--tell us some of the more challenging moments/issues facing Upstairs so far—in promoting food & beer concept.-for examples-- do people ask for wine? ;)
ALL THE TIME! The most frequent challenge is people asking for wine.  But its never been a big issue.  Everyone is still open to trying beer pairing once they realize we don't do wine and lots of them end up enjoyting them.
The more challenging issue is the portion.  Carbonation is a tricky little thing.  Some people will get full from a glass of diet coke while others can down pints of carbonated beverage.  Finding the right portion size for the dishes is an ongoing challenge.  Some of the smaller or female diners have hard time finishing everything with the beer.  So we are actually  developing a second pairing option right now which is made up meades, ciders, and cherry wine for not so heavy beer drinkers.
But overall, we are very grateful and fortunate that our food and beer concept has been well accepted so far.  I have spent many years feeding people fine food with wine and ate lots of fine food with wine, and I can confidently say you will leave with more memorable experience with fine food and beer if you are open minded. Key is open mind.
#Upstairs is still fairly new to the gourmet food scene in Bangkok---how has it been from the locals perspective? Is it very much still a beer geek driven crowd or there’s local non-geeks who came for food beer experiences?
We started the concept geared toward the beer geeks but lots of them still want heavy fried food and huge piece of meat with their beer.  We actually get lots of non-beer geeks come in for the experience.  I would even say that most of our diners are non-beer geeks.  Which is very exciting for us because through the tasting menu, we are challenging the diners to try different style of beers.  And watching the impression of people drinking their first sours, or super fresh saision is very rewarding. 
答“开始的想法主要放眼在啤迷,有趣的是,开业至今几个月,来用餐的都不是啤迷,很多甚至没什么喝过CRAFT BEER,这是件好事,通过我们定制的菜单可以逐步认识更多不同啤酒。”
#You do certain special tasting events for some new beers brought in by Mikkeller—do you sometimes tweak you food menu or recipe or ingredients in accordance to how you feel about the new beers?--presuming you work on it while enjoying the new beers before most of us  do :)
I actually tweak my food in the menu every night.  Even with our normal menu, I would adjust the sweet, sour, saltiness, or richness according to the beer we are pairing that day.  For the special tasting events, we definitely tweak the food or sometimes we just create a whole new dish.  The dishes on the menu is sometimes driven by the beer and other times through culinary inspiration.  But the minor tweaks are made in the food because you can't really change the beer once it's bottled.
#Any observations that you would like to share with us—pertaining to beer food pairing—the possibilities—the constraints—whatever it might be really
The possibilities of food and beer pairing are great.  In my opinion, lot of wine pairing is very subjective.  At end of the day, they are just fancy grape juice because you can't add any other actual spices or fruits into wine.  Where in beer making, you can add yuzu, coffee beans, kilos of blueberry, so it is more clear.  With beer, you have the option to not just pair it with a dish but it becomes a part of the dish.

#Mikkeller Bangkok has been the point of attraction for beer lovers all over the region---those who turned up at Upstairs are a mix of nationalities—any observations or stories you would like to tell us?
Danish people can drink and they can eat.  French still love their wines.  Asians have small bladder because we probably get up 3-4 times during the meal to go use the washroom.  (joke..:)
#Mikkel was in town this year and had an event at Upstairs---anything he told you that you might like to share with us?( if not or private messages then we understand)
Mikkel is man of few words.  Which is why I like him.  He doesn't bull shit you.  Last time he was here, he just told me "awesome food" and smiled.  And I just said "awesome beer" and smiled back. 
#What would be your ideal Upstairs—ideal as in don’t give a damn about all the real life issues or obstacles that could hinder that ideal.
To be honest, my ideal Upstairs is our current Upstairs.  Lots of people like to tell me what I should do and not do, and I do consider and respect all opinions, but at end of the day, I still run Upstairs the way I want to.  Some people get the concept, some don't, but every single diner that has dined at Upstairs feel the love.  And I think that's because I am able to give all my heart and love to Upstairs because it is deeply rooted to my principles.  There are many real life issues and obstacles but I enjoy them.  It is what drives me and allows me to put my apron on every morning and work.  Because I understand everyone has life issues and obstacles, but I want to make them forget about their problems at least for the moments that they are in my dining room.
#Any words to people who still believe fine dining MUST ONLY be in the companion of wine?
I respect different people's preference.  And there are thousands of great restaurant where you can enjoy fine dining with wine.  We are just not one of them.  However, I do believe that fine dining is more about the experience.  And sometimes you have to step out of the comfort zone to have an extraordinary memorable experience.
问:对一些坚持FINE DINING就等于一定要配搭WINE的朋友,你的意见是?
ABOUT CHEF DAN:-( in his own words)
Chef and Owner of Upstairs at Mikkeller Bangkok.  Made in Korea but assembled in America.  We moved to Chicago, Illinois when I was 8 years old.  So I was old enough to learn the heritage of Korea but majority of my learning and growth comes from the diversity of America.  My whole career started when I saw a writing on a wall - "You don't chose this career, but this career chooses you".  
I trained under Chef Curtis Duffy for five years.  First at Avenues where we got 2 Michelin stars and left to open Grace where it eventually got 3 Michelin stars.  
从开始米其林二星级AVENUES到三星级GRACEDAN BARK跟随芝加哥名厨CURTIS DUFFY五年时间。目前曼谷UPSTAIRS每星期五,六傍晚营业两天,最好先预约,详情请上网找。

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