Enjoy this serving from our archive, originally published in our Summer 2012 digital issue.
GUEST CHEF: KYLE BAILEY Kyle Bailey of Birch & Barley shares his thoughts on the perfect pair.
Brandon Vogel | November 6, 2013
KYLE BAILEY; PHOTO CREDIT: BIRCH & BARLEY
KYLE BAILEY | BIRCH & BARLEY
D.C.’S Birch & Barley had only been open a month when executive chef Kyle Bailey
first had the thought: “I’ve killed my career.” It wasn’t that people weren’t
showing up. There was a line down the block when the restaurant opened in the
stylish Logan Circle neighborhood in 2009. It’s just that everyone was ordering
burgers. The CIA-trained chef from South Philly had spent years in some
of New York’s best restaurants working toward this moment, crafting a menu full
of fine-dining staples like house-made charcuterie and duck confit that would
stand alongside an artisanal beer list offering more than 500 choices. The
gamble was that beer geeks and foodies would realize they shared common ground.
After a few weeks of burger flipping, they did, and Birch & Barley
blossomed. In January, the restaurant landed on Eater.com’s 2012 list of 38
Essential Washington Restaurants.
We talked with Bailey about challenging the perception of beer
and food, growing up eating fish sticks and why you should be making sausage
and pasta at home.
about your earliest culinary memories and the dishes you loved to eat as a
I was a
terrible eater as a kid. I hated tomatoes, mushrooms; I was one of those
people. Growing up, we never really cooked. We never ate fish unless it was in
fish sticks form. If we ever had chicken, it was only a chicken breast that was
super dry and really gross. In the school lunch program at the time, you could
buy a school lunch for $1.50 or you could spend it in the vending machines so I
had a lot of fruit roll-ups and lemonade for lunch.
you start cooking?
I got a
job as a dishwasher at a place called the Brass Ladle Bistro in Chadds Ford,
Pa., when I was 14. I got to peel onions and carrots, chop potatoes, and I
thought “This is real.” Watching food get put together was like art. It was
science. It was running around nonstop all day, screaming, sweaty, and drunken.
That’s food. That’s the industry. It was a life I just wanted to have. I hated
sitting at a desk.
your biggest culinary influence, and which chefs influence you now?
Redzepi from Noma is a huge influence. He’s got the best restaurant in the
world. Any of the guys who are trying to do the local-food thing really inspire
me. The people who are pushing the boundaries of food so far as what can you
eat and asking how can you dress it up, how can you make pork liver taste good,
how can you make beef heart taste good, are the people I admire.
your approach to matching food to beer? Beer is
grain-based so it’s got a different kind of body than wine. Every time I make a
dish, one thing I think about is what is going to be the final level of
satisfaction – Is the dish filling? Do the flavors and textures work? – so when
you’re done eating, you feel like there’s nothing missing. When we pair with
beer, lots of times it’s our choice what the guest has. So we look at the beer,
we look at the body, the alcohol content, even the mouthfeel, all those flavor
aspects. We talk about what’s going to work and it’s ultimately all about the
level of satisfaction.
interest in beer there from the very beginning, or was it something that
developed later in your career?
was growing up, there was very little good beer available. All through high
school, my buddies were drinking Miller Lite and Coors Light, so beer never
even really crossed my mind. It was just soulless beer. Then one day I had a
Two Hearted Ale and it just totally blew my mind. It had so much complexity.
And then the craft beer thing really took off and it became available. The
thinking at the time was that if you wanted to be a serious cook, you worked in
fine dining and fine dining was about wine. When I got to Allen & Delancy
in New York City (in 2008) I was in charge of ordering all of the beers and I
just started cooking food to pair with those beers.
working at Cru, one of the best wine bars in NYC, teach you about cooking with
beer and wine?
some of the best food I’ve ever been able to cook. Chef Shea Gallante is
amazing. He never cooked with the good wine. We had a giant wine cellar with
thousands of bottles. There were bottles that sold for hundreds of thousands of
dollars, but we never cooked with it. Are you going to put that in a braise,
cook it out for five hours? It’s going to turn to syrup. Whenever we did cook
with wine, it was always for finishing at the very end so it maintained its
complexion. That holds true, even more so, for beer. The most important thing I
took from working at Cru was that Shea didn’t open Cru to cook with wine. He
opened it to cook for wine. It’s still
was it to sell people on offering great food and great beer simultaneously?
our No. 1 challenge when we opened. Churchkey, our bar upstairs, was always
going to be about a good time, but Birch & Barley was yet to be defined.
Everybody expected us to serve, I hate saying it, "gastro-pub" food. One of the
things I wanted to do was to bridge that gap between foodies and beer geeks.
Why not? Beer is a cooked product. You have to cook it to make beer and you
have to cook food. Why can’t you have an awesome meal, paired with awesome
beer? It was a big challenge and there are some places that try to do what we
do but the food isn’t there.
or beers do you think deserve more attention in restaurants?
you ever go wrong with saisons? The sour ales are also gaining popularity and
are a good bridge for the wine folks to get into beer.
you describe your cooking style?
American, all the same words everyone uses now: local, seasonal, house-made. I call
a dish or technique that intimidates people but is actually quite easy?
sausage making is really the next frontier for home cooks. Pasta making is big,
too. Both just take time and effort. You can buy attachments for your KitchenAid
and that’s really it. From there, it’s just about ratios and flavors. We mix
all of our meat by hand here. It just makes a better product. The idea of
taking the long way home is really important. No shortcuts.
your favorite thing to cook for the pure joy of it?
Just really simple, really quick. Even pasta out of the box. Just make a sauce
on the fly with whatever you’ve got in the house and it’s almost always
the ultimate meal, with beer pairings, at Birch & Barley.
with a lot of local farms and they’ll just drop stuff off so we’re constantly
rotating beers and changing the menu. It’s just nonstop with the food and beer
pairings, so I’d say just a really simple cassoulet using what’s fresh and
CAVATELLI WITH BRAISED CHICKEN AND
Try Kyle Bailey’s hand-made pasta recipe.
HAVE A SEAT AT OUR TABLE
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