Chef Anne Conness, who oversees two branches of Simmzy’s in Manhattan Beach and Long Beach, and Tin Roof Bistro in Manhattan Beach, recently became a Certified Cicerone (one of only 2 females in L.A. County to do so) and is using her expertise to invigorate Simmzy’s tap takeovers. A recently example was their celebration of The Bruery’s 5th Anniversary which featured Conness’ take on traditional Flemish fare with several Bruery beers. I recently traded e-mails with Chef Conness to find out her point of view on craft beer and food pairing.
How did your cooking background help or hinder you in taking the Cicerone test?
I think that being a chef really helped me to dive deeply into beer. Whenever I taste a dish that I like, I instantly go into analytic overdrive, trying to identify every nuance of flavor to figure out how the chef made that particular dish. I approach beer with that same analytical thought process. I try to uncover something new with every sip, and in so doing learn more about the beer. Once I understand the “art” of the flavors, it’s easier for me to grasp the “science” or biochemistry behind it.
I was plenty anxious just taking the first level test for Certified Beer Server. How difficult was the jump from that test to the second level?
I was one of those annoying people who didn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life for a very, very, very long time. Along the way to finally becoming a chef, I took every aptitude test known to man, from the GMAT, to the LSAT to the Foreign Service Exam. I can assure you that I speak from experience when I say that the Certified Cicerone test may very well be the hardest test I’ve ever taken in my life. It is NO JOKE!
What is your philosophy on craft beer & food pairings?
The notion of food and beer pairings has been a revelation for me; as a chef you are expected to approach pairings through the omnipresent, yet constrictive, lens of wine. While I enjoy cooking wine-friendly menus, beer pairings are so much more liberating in comparison – it feels more like a party. Beer is the most food-friendly of the fermented beverages, hands down. It’s goes with sour, from vinaigrettes to kimchi; it goes with spicy, from arbol salsa to Thai curry; it goes with the “impossible” veggies, like artichokes and Brussels sprouts; and it’s downright shocking, how well it pairs with desserts! You just can’t say that about wine.
Do you have an off-the-wall pairing that on paper doesn’t look like it should work, but it does?
We paired Smog City Groundwork Coffee Porter with a Chocolate-Hazelnut-Anise Biscotti for dipping at Tin Roof Bistro. The flavors worked exceptionally well together; it was a great pairing—as long as you didn’t mind the soggy crumbs at the bottom of your glass!
What beer style is the easiest to pair with and which is the hardest?
The easiest beer to pair is a Saison. It’s fruity, spicy, earthy, fairly hoppy, highly carbonated, and sometimes, slightly sour. It’s complexity allows it to resonate with almost any bold food flavor you can think of. Think Grilled Peach & Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese; Chili Relleno; Peppercorn & Dijon Crusted Lamb; Mushroom Ragu with Soft Polenta; any kind of Burger; Steamed Clams with Chorizo; and almost any cheese! The most difficult beers to pair with food are the rip-snorting West Coast IPAs. Those gargantuan hops take out just about everything in sight, including your taste buds! Super-buttered and salty popcorn might do in a pinch, but only just.
Which course in the recent Bruery dinner garnered the most positives?
We did 3 Belgian-style courses for The Bruery dinner at Simmzy’s, each of which contained a Bruery beer as an ingredient: Mussels Frites with Hottenroth, a Flemish Beef Stew with Rugbrod, and a flourless Chocolate Cake with Smoking Wood Imperial Porter Ganache. I was surprised that the most popular dish was the Beef Stew. Essentially, I took a Beef Bourguignon recipe and used the rye beer in lieu of the red wine. If you have the time to explain it that way, it sounds awesome; but since the menu just read Flemish Beef Stew, I was a bit worried that I’d have no takers.
What is your current favorite beer?
Anything from Societe Brewing! The beer is breathtakingly complex, like drinking a novel (if that makes any sense at all). The brewer comes from Russian River, and you can tell! They have built out an aging room and have already started laying stuff down. In a couple years, SoCal will have its very own world-class, barrel-aged sours – can’t wait!
Any other breweries that you are excited about?
I love what our local guys are doing in the South Bay! We’ve got El Segundo Brewing down the street from us, and a veritable brewers’ ghetto growing in Torrance with the likes of Monkish, Smog City and Strand. We love pouring their beers! They make “supporting local” a super-easy choice.