All words: Riley Croghan
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Jennifer Nguyen, the executive chef at Zentan and one of our favorite chefs in D.C., might just be a kitchen wizard. You can watch her tonight when she faces off against Bobby Flay on his latest chef showdown, “Beat Bobby Flay.” We’re sworn to secrecy as to how Nguyen does on the show, but we can tell you without hesitation how well she performed on a recent pairing menu she whipped up with DC Brau.
Nguyen, who trained under Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, is no stranger to thinking on her feet. She designed a five-course menu with each dish inspired by one of DC Brau’s hoppy brews. A few of the dishes further incorporated the beers as an ingredient: her salmon crudo took on a flavorful sweet glaze from being cured in the Corruption IPA; and she went even closer to the source by smoking a pork belly with the columbus and centennial hops that go into the Public Pale Ale.
That second course, which was sweet, smoky, and tender beyond belief, was accented with a light, sharp kick from a house made apple cider gelée. This sort of unexpected but perfect marriage between two opposite tastes is a staple of Nguyen’s cooking, and one that shone through brilliantly on the desert course.
Where many chefs would save a stout or a porter to pair with desert, Chef Nguyen says she knew what she had to make the moment she cracked open a can of Citizen and immediately detected notes of sweet banana. She turned it into an ice cream with traditional toppings of caramel and a chocolate crunch, but the pièce de résistance was a chip of garlic brittle which was savory and earthy in a way that completely balanced with the sweetness of the dish.
The dishes that were designed for the beer pairing menu are not (yet) on Zentan’s standard menu, but don’t let that stop you from drooling over the food porn: