Interview with Chef Christian Pappanicholas of Resto – New York, NY

March 2009

Katherine Martinelli: When did you start pairing beer with food?
Christian Pappanicholas: Probably when I started drinking Belgian beer which was as soon as I got to New York, about 10 or 11 years ago. I use to go to Mark’t when it was on 14th Street and 9th Avenue and a close friend of mine is Belgian and was the manager there. We’d sit at the bar and eat, and I would want to try all the beers. He said we Belgians don’t drink like this, alone, we drink beer with food. Otherwise you just drink Stella. I was like, god, this makes sense, it’s no different than wine. It’s like just drinking a bottle of Barolo without a meal. I wasn’t in the industry at the time. I’m truly a wino at heart, but I have a love for Belgian beer.

When we were thinking about Resto this was something we wanted to do and not be pretentious about it. We have beer dinners every third Monday. Pairings are about good beer and good food together. The flavor profiles are like wine. We use the same terminology as wine. When someone asks what to drink I ask what kind of wine they like and go from there. We use the same terminology: acid, structure, fruit-forward, how’s the finish, and things like that. It’s important to do that because it’s taken so long for people to get wine. My mentality is if were going to pair we’re going to use the same terminology. And it makes sense.

KM: Tell me about your beer dinners.
CP: The last one we did was based around a small artisanal brewery in Belgium with saison style ales. Every Saturday they do a pig roast so it was in that inspiration. It goes along with our desire to expose people to beer and food. This week is all charcuterie, so pates and sausage. For us it will be things like the Rodenbach. We ask ourselves what kind of food do we want to cook, then we go from there. We have planned to do an all New York one. Ommegang is the only New York brewery we carry, and they’re owned by a Belgian company. Plus all the vegetables from Paffenroth farms and somebody local for meat and do an all local New York beer and food dinner. It’s based on what we want to eat. It’s fun because our customers get into it. We did a Trappist ale dinner and we’ll probably do another one. We do a course for each monastery and it gets a little more serious. Each person gets a plate and we try to work with the beers. It’s communal. Typically they’re about $55 and 3 courses on the short side, although the Trappist dinner is obviously more. We all sit at the table together. I’ll often talk a little about each beer to get people started in the conversation. It’s there to be discussed, not just dictated by me. I’m there to answer questions.

KM: How do people respond to beer pairings?
CP: The Monday night beer dinners are in their infancy. Usually right now they’re 10 to 15 people at a time, but people have been really excited about it. We have a newsletter and we post the events on When people have a tasting menu they often ask for a pairing. It’s often training my staff to talk to customers and getting them to explore the beer list based on what they’re eating. I don’t hold the pairing in such a grand light that if you’re eating a steak you have to drink a California cab. I’d just as easily like to drink a Riesling with a ribeye because that’s what I want to eat and what I want to drink. We often have this conversation with customers. With the beef you could drink what it’s braised in or go with something hoppier to cut the fat. If someone asks me about food recommendations it changes based on what I feel like eating at the moment. There are standards that I hold, but it’s also awesome to look at something in a different way. How the Rodenbach, for example, is sour and funky. I think that’s great.

KM: Is there anything that you avoid in beer and food pairings?
CP: Some of the natural things are the Lambics that don’t use fresh fruit. Lindemans uses an extract in their beer. It’s fun to drink, especially at brunch; it’s like having a mimosa but with beer. That’s what I see with people who cook and pair with beer that there’s a natural fault that it [Lambic] goes with dessert. There’s so much sweetness. I’ve seen Framboise used for duck and it doesn’t work for my palate. They’re great for what they are: fresh and clean and fruity, unsophisticated in their way, and not here to eat with seriously. Waffles and Frambois is fine, when you’re just looking for some libation to go with brunch.

KM: Do you have a favorite pairing?
CP: I’d have to say the Rodenbach with the charcuterie. The saltiness from the fresh sausage, and then I love that sour flavor profile [of the Rodenbach]. Geuze is one of my favorite things but it’s hard to get people to think of it. You have to get your palate ready for that. It’s sour and yeasty and bitter, but in all the right ways. I like to challenge and go that route with pairings. When you’re eating food it gives you the ability to drink something a little funkier. I can balance it out with the food.