Previously I’ve asked “beer folks” to talk to me about memorable beers for my ongoing series, The best beer I’ve ever had. Recently, I put the call out to chefs and restaurateurs to detail their “best beer” experiences for me in hopes of exploring the important connection between food and beer.
For today’s installment, Mark McEwan shares his story. McEwan is the Chef/Owner of North 44, Bymark, One, McEwan and Fabbrica. He is also the author of Great Food at Home and Fabbrica, the star of The Heat and Head Judge of Top Chef Canada.
For the past three years, my executive assistant Jordie, executive chefs Andrew Ellerby (One, Fabbrica, McEwan), Brooke McDougall (Bymark), and I head down to Barbados in November for the Food, Wine and Rum Festival.
The four of us work for 12 hours a day prepping items for their main event, called Ambrosia, where 1200 guests enjoy appetizer offerings from six international chefs and six on-island chefs at the polo club [i.e. the ridonkulous Lion Castle Polo Estate.~ Ben.]
We are known for showing up at the prep kitchen with a great playlist, speakers, and cold Banks beer to get us through the days of 100-degree temperatures inside the non-air conditioned kitchen.
Cracking that first beer always signifies the start of a lot of hot, hard work ahead, but also a great amount of bonding time in the kitchen. Lots of laughs with new friends and old are always a part of that experience, which makes that first beer always so special.
Lead photo credit: The McEwan Group Blog.
6 thoughts on “The best beer I’ve ever had: Mark McEwan”
It’s interesting that many chefs seems to see beer within the context of work performed. Beer serves a function rather than anything else. As opposed to wine, it’s a signifier of work and maybe a signal that work has stopped at the end of a shift (which Mark doesn’t talk about, but which I’ve read other places.) I wonder whether the reticence to think about beer as a pairing for food comes in some way from the kitchen’s reliance on beer as a functional beverage designed for refreshment and caloric intake during a long grinding shift; whether the paradigm that would lean on lighter lagers for a purpose might actually make the transition to more complex fare more difficult?
An interesting theory and from what I glean in talks with chefs, one that is not without its merits. Most chefs, even the ones who understand good beer, seem to have a stand-by lager. Working in the kitchen is hard, hot work, after a while the association with beer as the cold refreshing thing at the end of a shift might become ingrained.
So now in the fight to get good beer in more restaurants we’re not just up against big brewers with marketing dollars, but Pavlovian classical conditioning? We’re fucked.
Explains why the beer sucks in all of McEwan’s restaurants.
As soon as I read Barbados I started repeating in my head “Don’t say Banks…don’t say Banks”. God no!
That is the most awful bear I’ve ever had. I routinely chose to drink nothing when that was my only option. My wife was pregnant so she was blessed to not experience my trauma. On a positive note, the grocers sell a rum barrel aged beer card 12 Saints that was pretty decent.
“called 12 saints” not “card”.
My first job during high school was working as a dishwasher in a hotel restaurant in Cornwall ON. It was hard, hot, gruelling work- especially in the summer when you had a full bar and restaurant, and three banquet rooms going with weddings on the same night.
I soon proved myself not to be a major burn out fuck-up (fooled them!) and was soon enlisted to help in other capacities during those busy evenings- assembly line plating of banquet dinners, salad bar prep, etc.
By the end of the night though, I was still usually left by myself to mop up and put away the kitchen for the next day.
The greatest sign of appreciation after those long, hot nights though, was going down to the basement at the end of my shift, well after midnight, and finding a note from the chefs telling me to look in the ice machine where I’d find a couple of ice cold Labatt Blues waiting for me. As a 17 year old, this was the greatest thing ever. I’d chug one for thirst right there on the spot and nurse the other one on my walk home in the dead of a humid, summer night.