Culinary students scramble to prepare Brewers Dinner

Chris Holen, executive chef at Baked Alaska in Astoria, helps seniors Porter Johnson, center, and Rey Gonzalez prepare skewers of curry chicken during a class fall. Students in Seaside High School's culinary arts program will prepare a five-course feast for the Brewers Dinner March 6.

Jimmy Griffin couldn’t believe his tastebuds at last year’s Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Sunriver. The banquet, served to many hundreds of attendees, had been prepared by the students of Seaside High School’s culinary arts program.

“I was struck by the quality of it,” said Griffin, owner of Seaside Brewing Company and a sponsoring participant of the Pouring at the Coast Craft Beer Festival March 7. A light bulb went off: “I thought, why can’t we have the kids do that at the Brewer’s Dinner in Seaside?”

Griffin returned to the coast with a pitch for the Seaside Chamber of Commerce: Have the students prepare the meal and use the proceeds to benefit the program.

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Chris Duffy, the chamber’s events director. “We want to acknowledge this great culinary program here, that it’s a pipeline for kids to get make and exciting foods.”

Griffin saw another benefit: Students cycling through the program would invent fresh and exciting dishes.

“What people are looking for in brewer’s dinners,” said Griffin, “is that they want something new and something cool.”

For the meal on March 6 — the night before Pouring at the Coast — the culinary arts students, led by Chef Chris Holen, of Baked Alaska restaurant in Astoria, will serve five courses to be paired with beers from breweries along the North Coast. The breweries include Buoy Beer, Fort George, Pelican, Bill’s Tavern and, of course, Seaside Brewing Company.

“I just sent the menu out to the breweries to suggest what beers they would think would pair best with the different courses,” Griffin said. The choices must be made from among a multitude.

“This is where beer actually gets a little more sophisticated than wine,” said Griffin. “There are a lot more styles of beer.”

“For example,” he added, “I got an email from Ken at Pelican, who suggested a beer for the second course, a soup, which had a fancy cheddar kind of basing. In the notes he said, ‘I would not use an IPA unless this white cheddar was the dominant flavor in the soup.’”

However tantalizing the brewed pairings may be, the culinary students are creating the bigger buzz. Twice as many tickets (125) are available this year, and by all accounts they’re going fast.

“If that sells out quickly enough,” said Duffy, “we’ll possibly open up even more seating.”

Griffin, meanwhile, revels in the blooming local interest.

“I notice a lot of younger folks who are big community movers and shakers wanting to be a part of it,” Griffin said of the dinner. “Before, it was a little bit more passive. Now people are kind of fighting for spots. We’ve got a big buy-in from local businesses who have the opportunity to sponsor tables and they’re jumping at it.”

All of this excites the culinary arts program, which will not only receive the proceeds after expenses are paid, but will be tested on their execution. And while the students might be sweating, Griffin couldn’t be happier.

“Now it’s more than just enjoying a fantastic meal and a bunch of fantastic beers,” he said. “You get all of that, plus you get to help kids in your own community. It’s a lot more symbiotic than just a dinner.”

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