Beans, Bourbon and Top Chefs at IACP Denver

First, an amuse bouche for our Top Chef fans:

Hosea Rosenberg Top Chef and Denver resident. Me. He was gracious enough to hang out and chat, smile for probably a million pictures. I didn't even ask about Leah. Can you believe it? Or whether Stefan was as big a jerk... oh, I digress. Here's all you need to know. One, he was nice enough to do this photo op with me. Two, everyone who went to the dinner at Jax ($170 per person!) raved about it. Three, rumor has it he is interested in learning more about sustainable seafood. That makes this chef Tops in my book!

S/O/L/E Food Tuesday

Since this is S/O/L/E Food Tuesday (or at least it was when I began) I wanted to acknowledge that the beans here get a little mixed up with my friend, the lamb shank. Apologies to my veggie friends. But the beans are a find and you can easily skip the whole meat side of this menu to enjoy a meat-free meal.  And here's a general warning: I'm combining a lot in this post as I'm eager to incorporate good information and fun stuff from IACP where I was holed up with an amazing group of people in Denver last week. So, simply drop me a line if you want more info and ideas about using these beans. Better yet, check out the websites of the presenters below. Steve Sando, Judy Witts, and Ruth Alegria.

Now about those beautiful beans...

Starting out on the topic of Beans and Bourbon because I had some great beans tonight which reminded me of the great beans in the conference. And Bourbon - well I guess it's on my mind because it was one of the last sessions I attended and I had some lovely Eagle Rare at Cochon555 Sunday night.

But let's begin with those beans!

Steve Sando was a delight. The very model of self-effacing charm. To hear him tell it, we have saved all these marvelous heirloom beans from obscurity and extinction because he wasn't any good at growing tomatoes. Pshaw. He's as driven as any entrepreneur I've met. Just with more charm and a nice smile. Who wouldn't want to join his crusade? He's out there finding that one woman in the market who is selling her beans in near obscurity.

Economic and social sustainability are important to Steve so he is buying these beans, and paying the local farmers a living wage. He has to charge a bit more, maybe limit his sales to specialty shops to do so, but the Mexican markets are being flooded with Chinese products at such cheap prices the local farmers are unable to compete. When people are going hungry and the fields are lying fallow because it makes no economic sense to farm them and harvest the crops, something is seriously wrong.  (It reminds me very much of our Alaskan Fishermen who must calculate what the fuel costs are, the likely catch, and the price they'll get before deciding whether it makes sense to take their boat out. You know those prices we pay at the markets are not anywhere near what the fishermen get. Unless you buy direct.) 

Now, many foodies know of Rancho Gordo. If you read Saveur or Gourmet or pretty much any food magazine, you're bound to have heard of Rancho Gordo beans. They offer a stunning variety of beans from all over and they are preserving many breeds that were nearly forgotten. These two are the Christmas Lima bean (at left) and the Yellow Indian Lady bean (at right.) We got to sample each in the session and they were wonderful. The Christmas Lima holds its color through cooking (unlike our more familiar cranberry beans that lose their color once cooked.) They had a chestnut-chocolate flavor - very subtle and wonderful. The Yellow Indian Lady beans were quite different in texture, color and flavor from the Christmas Limas. Both were prepared simply so as to highlight their unique flavors. The Yellow Indian Lady beans were creamy and mildly flavored, faintly reminiscent of roasted corn.


Judy Witts (many of us follow her on Twitter DivinaCucina) shared the history and perspective of the  mangia-fagioli, or bean-eaters as Florentines are called. From Popes to Explorers to modern day Slow Food fans, beans have a rich and long history in Tuscany. The Ark of Taste will try to ensure their future as well.

Ruth Alegria (doesn't that mean happiness?) shared news from Mexico, another culture with a rich bean history. Again, varieties have been around for centuries and played an important role in the diet. To this day, it seems new beans, well ancient beans, new to us, are being discovered. 

Graciously, these presenters have gathered their slides for our viewing pleasure, here at Their slides are gorgeous. Go ahead and have a look, I'll wait.

New Beige Beans

A handful of you are laughing now, the rest are scratching their heads. "New Beige" is not a new or an old variety of bean, it's the local vernacular for "New Bedford." Don't ask me why, you have to ask someone in New Beige. Anyway, there is a large Portuguese or Azorean population there (not really sure which) and a history of whaling. Today, you can get great beans like these in the supermarket. Rather than the $14.00/lb you might pay for beautiful beans in a certain precious South End shop, you can get a 1lb bag of Gouveia beans for $1.00 or $1.29.

We've tried their "white feijoada or white navy" beans, their pintos, and these beans are beautiful. They cook up much faster than the national brand supermarket beans. I'm sure they must be coming from some local farm.

Using the white beans, and lamb shanks, tonight we had this for dinner - see how the beans are still intact? Very few broken ones and they have a great texture. We added some lightly steamed asparagus to this "Hello Spring" meal. 


For my vegetarian readers, sorry about that big ol' shank on the lovely beans there...but well, you know how I am. 

These beans were cooked separately with no meat, they would have made a perfect vegetarian meal in and of themselves. Beans, as our Florentine and Mexican friends well know, are an inexpensive and long-lasting protein. They require less of the soil than other types of proteins, and actually enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen in it. Dan Barber of Stone Barns pointed out the methods used there are replicating the ancient "Three Sisters" symbiotic planting: Corn stalks support beans like a trellis. The beans give nitrogen to the corn and squash which is planted around the base. The large squash leaves protect the young bean vines as they emerge and get strong enough to climb the corn. I saw the modern version of this in Dan Barber's presentation and then ancient Mexican renderings of the same method in Ruth's!

From Beans to Bourbon

Now how to top that, other than with gremolata? How about Bourbon!

If you're talking about American heritage, you're going to bump up against a bottle of Bourbon sooner or later. Hopefully, it's sooner. Since I'm blogging Tales of the Cocktail this summer, I had a terrific "excuse" to choose the Bourbon session at the IACP conference. "Bourbon: America's Native Spirit" was led by a New Orleanian, Chef Adam Schmid, CCP, CSS and Adam Seger CCP and mixologist of Nacioanal 27 in Chicago. Along Joshua Hafer and Parker Beam, Master Distiller celebrating his 50th year with Heaven Hill distillery.

That's Parker on the right and Adam on the left between my fellow seminar attendees. Left to right were the following samples: "White Dog" is the distillate prior to barrel aging. “New Make” is another name for it. Next is Evan Williams, then Elijah Craig 12 yo small batch whiskey (70 Barrels or less). Parker says "Others are doing it now, but we were doing before others started calling it 'Small Batch.'" The third glass is Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12 yo Wheated (wheat is substituted for rye) small batch. Then, Elijah Craig 18 y.o. single barrel, and finally on the right that beautiful, Parkers Small Batch 27 year old.

Parker Beam, Adam Seger, Bourbon



Our Bourbon Experts















 Chef Albert Schmid, Adam Seger, Parker Beam and Joshua Hafer


Parker Beam and me! He's the great nephew of Jim Beam. In my glass is the the 27 year old Bourbon named after him. I believe you could fairly say I am beaming!

It was a great seminar and really more information than I could take in. Possibly, even more Bourbon than I could take in. Possibly.

Some fun facts:

  • A 57 gallon barrel might lose 2/3 vol by 27 years
  • Other losses include the "angels' share" which is that lost to evaporation
  • Perhaps the occasional missing barrel is the devil's?
  • Different barrels will age differently based on its position in the warehouse. More heat, less humidity, the way an individual barrel interacts with the heat and humidity.
  • New Charred White Oak is used and imparts a chemical similar to vanilla bean
  • John Fitzgerald’s named after the warehouse security guard under whose watch certain barrels went missing.

These guys tell the best stories and an interesting number of them had pastors or ministers for fathers. Hm. 

Adam Seger recounted one of the first tastings where he'd met Parker. He was impressed and surprised that Parker showed up to his tastings with his own, as well as his competitors’ products. Now that is confidence.

It may have been at that tasting where Adam met the old bartender Max Allen. Apparently there was a local judge who would come into Max Allen's and have about 3 or 4 of Max's famously strong Manhattan's. After which the judge simply said "I'm ready for my car, Max." At which point, a tow truck would arrive, hitch up to the front of the judge's car, the judge would get into the passenger seat and get towed home.

Don't tell me these guys don't have the best stories.