David Ort, Foodie PhD.
“It’s was a fun topic to write about because the more we talk about it, the better our food gets and the better our experience gets with beer. It’s more than just the sum of their parts, it’s a harmonious pairing” – David Ort
There’s no question about it; David Ort has a PhD in Foodie… and probably a MA in Beer. As curious new students to idea of beer writing, we eagerly braved the bitter cold and trekked to Hi-Lo Bar on the East side of the city to meet the awesome David Ort at Well Preserved’s Home Ec 25 Craft Beer Salon.
As if being an esteemed food blogger (FoodWithLegs.com) wasn’t impressive enough, Ort is also rumoured to have been guy who cracked The Burger Priest’s secret menu (too cool)! When we added his new book to our line up of Tipsy Textbooks we knew we just had to meet him.
The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook is an exciting collection of snacks, app, mains and desserts designed for the home cook that either pair well with craft beer or leverage craft beer as a flavourful ingredient. More on that later. Stay tuned for our (glowing) Tipsy Textbook Review later this month.
We had the pleasure of interviewing David, discovering that he’s a pretty great guy (don’t you just love it when that happens?) and sharing what we learned with all of you! Fair warning: abandon that TLDR attitude. Ort had many insightful things to say so bonus marks for reading ’til the end.
Time for some rapid-fire questions. David, you have one beer. It’s the last beer you’ll ever drink. Which one do you choose?
I’d definitely go with Goudenband. It’s an old Flemish brown beer that you can find in the LBCO now. I like it because it’s an artifact style beer that used to be brewed in the 1600’s and hasn’t changed that much since then. It’s a little sour and a little sweet. It’s malty, and goes really well with food because of that. It comes wrapped in a tissue paper bottle so it looks fancy but it’s only $6.75 or something!
Quick, without thinking, which do you prefer, lagers or ales?
What’s your favourite style of beer?
IPA. If I had to pick one that you could find, it would be Mad Tom. Good beer for food pairing as well.
What is your go-to cookbook, asides from your own?
It’s not really a cookbook, it’s a food science book. It’s called On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. You see it everywhere! On Alten Brown’s Good Eats, there were, like, six episodes where he pulls it off the shelf in his kitchen. McGee was the first one to write a book with no recipes, just food science and it’s in it’s 26th printing. It is THE book on food science.
What’s your favourite bar in Toronto?
Bar Hop. I think they’re doing something cool there in the condo area. It’s not an obvious place for a bar like that and the guys there are just great.
What’s your favourite bar in Canada?
Bar Volo, also in Toronto.
You’re having a romantic night. Which beer do you choose?
Well it’s interesting because my girlfriend doesn’t actually drink, but if I had to pick it would be Brut. It takes a lot of it’s brewing styles from champagne. There’s one in the LCBO called Dues Brut. Its got it all; wire, cage and cork.
What’s the worst drink you’ve ever had?
Vodka tonic or vodka soda.
That was great, thanks for doing the rapid-fire questions. So we hear you’re into writing…
I’ve been writing about food for about five years now and only got into writing about beer about three years ago.
Is that why you decided to write your book about beer, as opposed to any other category of food, or wine?
Well the thing about wine, in general and in particular to cookbooks, is that there are a lot of them. There are a lot of people who write about wine and there are a lot of set ideas on how to write about wine but with beer there’s more opportunity to march to your own beat, to innovate, and people are really interested in finding out more about beer.
Beer is really interesting. We’ve noticed that there’s down to earth mentality when it comes to learning about beer.
It’s true, and the cool thing is that there’s this really interesting movement towards appreciating beer for its qualities and not just for its marketability and “extra coldness”. In North America over the past five years its moved from away people’s garages, away from their TVs, away from something you drink on a hot day after cutting the grass or while you’re watching a football game, and towards being something that you appreciate. People now have beer parties to talk about beer.
What I wanted to do was take it a step further and think about beer as something that you bring to the table. In a way that happened for wine in North America about 50 years ago, I want people to get into their minds the idea that beer is great for food. You cook with beer and you pair beer with well thought out meals. It’s not just for chilling or to pair with nachos [laughs]. Craft beer has gone in so many flavour directions that the opportunities to use it as an ingredient and as a pairing has gone in many directions as well.
Why did you chose to feature Canadian craft beer instead of craft beer on a global or a North American scale?
Good question. It was a combination of what I know (because I know a lot about Canadian craft beer, I think) and the fact that there’s a giant amount of beers that I haven’t tried, outside of North America in particular. One of the challenges of living in Ontario is that only a certain number of beers come into the LCBO and if they don’t come into the LCBO there’s really no other way to get them. I wanted to be able to write knowledgeably about them. The recipes have at least one beer that’s Canadian but in some cases there’s also an international one as well. Another thing to keep in mind about those beers is that they’re ingredients but in a lot of cases they are also a pairing. The Canadian focus really comes from what’s available.
When did the idea for the book really emerge? How long did it take you to put this all together?
A lot of the recipes really came from ideas that I had while blogging about food, but the actual process of thinking about the book to it being available for purchase was December 2012 (when the pitch was accepted) to December 2013 (when it was actually on shelves).
Wow, that must have been an intense year with lots of cooking and drinking. Was that fun or did it become overwhelming after a while?
It’s always fun. It’s hard to complain about drinking beer and writing about it. I write a weekly beer column and that’s really spaced out. I photograph a beer, write about it and its got a very short time frame to it. With writing a cookbook though, you have to develop the recipes, write the recipes up, test the recipes – that was like a two month period. There was no time to think about any other function of the book. Then to edit the book was six months. In that time we did the photography. In comparison to any other writing, writing a book is very much like building each piece of the puzzle independently and then putting them all together. It’s interesting and challenging.
How much of a hand did you have in the book’s photography and the design structure? There are these really beautiful title pages that we just loved.
I tell people that anything in the book that looks nice I had almost nothing to do with! I wrote it. I was really lucky to work with two friends, Robin Sharp was the photographer and Rossy Earle was the stylist. They were fantastic. We did all the photography in two days, which was insane! The design work was done by the publisher and they did a fantastic job.
What’s your favourite recipe and pairing in the book?
See I get asked that question a lot and picking your favourite recipe is like picking a favourite child.
[laughs] So what is your favourite recipe pairing that’s not in the book? In life. Forget about your child.
Okay so in the book, the recipe that I’m obsessed with right now (and this changes somewhat frequently) is the fried chicken recipe because it uses sour ale in the batter. Sour ale isn’t super easy to find. It’s one of the most difficult craft beers to track down but it’s worth it for the recipe. Salty, fatty fried food goes so well with acidic palate cleansing beer.
Outside of the book, the beer pairing idea that I’m really interested in right now is brown ale paired with roasted and grilled meat. The maillard reaction that happens on the outside of grilled meats creates flavours that are very similar to brown ale flavours. Brown ales like Amsterdam Downtown Brown and Newcastle are good examples. They’re very “workman” like beers that don’t do much but they work well with that kind of food.
One of the things I’m most proud of is that all the recipes in the book were designed and tested for home cooks. I gave six recipes to friends and family and told them not to ask me any questions while they made them. I configured all the results so that I could be sure that the recipes could be done in home kitchens by intermediate/beginner cooks.
No need to refute this thesis because David Ort is clearly a intellectual foodie force to be reckoned with! He’s done his research so that we can learn more about why our taste buds react so well to the combination of food and beer. Get your copy of The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook here and here or read more about what people have to say about it here.
Big thank you to the lovely David for letting us pummel him with questions and a special thank you to the folks at Well Preserved for helping us arrange the interview!
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