Interview with Tommy Harder of Blind Tiger Alehouse

Chef Tommy Harder

Tommy Harder
Executive Chef
Blind Tiger Alehouse
281 Bleecker street
New York, NY 10014

Brief Bio Born in the farmlands of southern Idaho but grew up in the suburbs of Portland Oregon, Graduated from University of Oregon with degrees in business and psychology. Cooking, for me, started out as a hobby and a means for making ends meet and pay my way through college. It wasn’t until I was ending my days of academia that I decided to take my passions and turn cooking it into a career. So I attended Le Cordon Bleu’s Western Culinary Institute and started developing my skills under some of the great chefs in Portland, Oregon. I wanted to see the world so got set up in Club Med resorts which took me to Florida, and The Caribbean, before setting my sites on New York. After a few months I found myself at the doorstep of Blind Tiger Alehouse. I have backgrounds in over six different cuisines including French, Italian, thai, Japanese and American

Why is the pairing of food & beer important to you? For one, Flavor, Plain and simple. Beer has always taken a back seat to wine when asked to pair with a dish in fine dining restaurants, and yet the different flavors produced by the different styles of beer are more consistent compatibilities with the food I enjoy and grew up eating like burgers, pizza, Mexican food, Asian food, cheese, and barbeque. Plus I like beer, grew up in rural America where it’s more a part of life than wine and spirits. When talking about any food and beverage pairing, it’s said “ if it grows together it goes together.” Foods like cheese, which comes from animals that are fed grains and hints of these flavors come out in the dairy products, grown in mountainous regions, beer being produced from grain grown in similar regions of the world has a natural pairing, better than fruits grown in coastal valleys, or imported from countries half way around the world. Plus, I even had a hand in the production of beer helping out on my dad’s farm in Idaho as a teenager harvesting barley, wheat, and other grains which then went to making beer. Beer is more personally connected to me, and my family’s way of life. I have worked in breweries back in college and restaurants that had a major focus on beer, and even had over hundreds of taps featuring micro breweries all across the Northwest and world back in my days in Portland, Oregon, a city that boasts having more breweries than any other city per capita. At the end of a long day, I am more likely to reach for a cold one in the fridge. Since food is the main focus in my life, I am always focused on the balance of flavors in any dish, and have to always take into consideration how the food will react to what people drink whether it’s a spirit, wine, or beer. It’s wise to understand all possible pairings and not limit one’s enjoyment to just what a sommelier would recommend.

What got you started on pairing food & beer? Well it was something talked about in culinary school as well as wine pairings, but more recently, in my professional life while consulting at a beer and cheese shop in Hell’s Kitchen, It was something that customers were seeking out on a daily basis. So starting with just how different cheeses went with different beer styles took on a different form when I starting focusing on all kinds of food and different cuisines of the world, and pairing with beer.

Who are the chefs you admire? I admire chefs that have a lot of passion for giving people good food and that this something seen through there cuisine. Some who have had a major impact on my cooking are Chefs like Rick Bayless, Ming Tsi, and Thomas Keller, who I spent my free time reading there cookbooks as I commuted between jobs and home in my earlier, struggling culinary artists years. Plus chef who are not well known or have celebrity status, but were mentors of mine, and help shape and fuel my passion for food were chefs like Pascal Sauton of Carafe French Bistro or Marcus Anthony Bynum.

What are some of your favorite pairings? Cheese and beer. Age gouda like Black Knight, or Beemster X.O., or roaring forties blue cheese with a nice stout or porter.

Favorite style / beer to pair with? Sours, and Saisons. They open the door to bring sweet and savory flavors together, and have ability to bring harmony to a dish pairing, taking a dish and having elements of heat, saltiness, and adding sweet elements like fruit compotes and such. Once paired with a sour beer then you having all the tastes present at the dinner table.

Favorite all time beer? Total domination IPA from Ningasi Brewery in Springfield, Oregon.

Feature dish in which you pair beer with food or use beer in preparing the dish? Pilsner brined chicken wings, or brown ale braised pulled pork, then take the braising liquid and turn it into brown ale gravy.

Thoughts on the future of food & beer in fine dining? It is the future, the restaurants that incorporate beer repertoire in the sommelier’s arsenal are the ones that are going to be in the restaurants that everyone talks about.

Favorite restaurant in a city not your own? Carafe French Bistro, Portland, Oregon. One of the best burgers I ever had and being a former employee, I ever had a hand in producing. It is a restaurant that features only seasonal products grown in local organic farms surrounding Portland.

Recipe- Pilsner brined hot wings.
1 gallon of choice pilsner beer or any light colored flavorful artisan beer.
1 cup of salt
Chicken wings or chicken pieces
Mix salt and beer together in a large container; be cautious as it will cause the beer to become foamy and possibly over flow. Pour over top of meat and cover with plastic wrap. Place bags of ice or a large plate and weigh down so that the chicken remains submerged for three hours. If the chicken pieces are small they can get too salty if they are brined for too long. Drain and allow the chicken to dry and sit for thirty minute or more so that the juices will infuse into the meat. If you roast or cook too quickly, all the beer will leach out during the cooking process. Place the chicken pieces on an oven rack and on top of a sheet tray and roast at 350 degrees until the chicken forms a brown skin and is cooked all the way through, or reaches internal temperature of 165 degrees. Take the wings and toss them with your favorite hot sauce, dip in some blue cheese dressing to counter the heat and enjoy.

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