Chef's Choice: Brendan Cooke 

click to enlarge Abundant ale Brendan Cooke likes beer and he uses it in many recipes at the Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Co. in Squamish.
  • Abundant ale Brendan Cooke likes beer and he uses it in many recipes at the Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Co. in Squamish.

With a last name like the one he has it's no surprise that Brendan Cooke is where he is.

The chef at the Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Co. for the last four years, he's no stranger to establishments built around alcohol.

Back in Ontario he gained experience working in kitchens at wineries. At the age of 17, Cooke got his first job in a dish-pit then started cooking soon after. He's never looked back.

His love of snowboarding inspired him to leave the Niagara area at the age of 18 for big-mountain adventures in Whistler where he had stints at the Crabshack and The Wildwood. He also had a crack at tending bar.

The blend of wine, beer and food landed him where he is now, with beer being a key ingredient he incorporates into almost everything his kitchen produces.

"We definitely cook with a lot of beer," says the chef. "Our pizza dough is cooked with beer. Some of our other breads are done with beer. Our pork butts are braised off beer, shoulder ribs we do in beer. Wherever we can."

Cooke says beer is fun and creative to work with. He also describes it as flexible. Beer goes into most of the sauces, and some of the soups and breads produced in the kitchen.

"It's across the board, anything we can put it into we put it in," Cooke says.

"If it'll work, we'll go for it.

"I grew up as a beer drinker at a pretty young age," Cooke says without any shame and a hint of a smile. "Our beer has definitely come leaps and bounds in the last few years."

The brew coming out of the facility at the top of Howe Sound has grown in volume and in reputation. The brewing company has been in the craft beer business since 1996 and in the years since then Howe Sound Brewing has picked up a long list of craft beer awards, including medals from the North American Brewers Awards. It just makes sense that a beer-loving chef named Cooke would unite the beer and the food. He's doing it in more ways than one.

"Since October we've been running a beer pairing menu at the end of every month," Cooke says. "It comes from the same premise of doing a Tapas menu or a wine pairing menu. It is an up-and-coming thing in the beer world."

The next beer pairing night is set for March 28.

"We've been doing a four-course," says Cooke. "We have a pastry chef in house. Her name is Amanda Bazett. She comes up with the dessert for the fourth course. We switch it up all the time."

The event is held in the hotel's restaurant space where Cooke says it is easiest for him to talk to the guests along with one of the brewing staff.

"It is pretty experimental," Cooke says. "Everyone is pretty happy with how it has come out so far."

The February event attracted about 20 people, a first course of curried lentil soup paired with Devil's Elbow India Pale Ale (IPA). The group also enjoyed mussels with a dark IPA brewed using Cascadian hops. The mussels were followed by New York steak with Rail Ale demi-glace

According to Cooke, the pairing events are attracting beer fans from as far away as Vancouver.

"I've had a few that have been coming to every one," Cooke says of the beer fans that come for the special pairing evenings. "We have a deal going with the hotel, as well."

The package deal allows those who like to make a full Squamish evening out of it to end the evening knowing they don't have a long, evening drive home.

Cooke says he expects the March pairing night to be one of the busiest yet because Good Friday follows the next day. The menu is to include oysters and stout and hen with King Heffy Imperial Hefeweizen.

When Cooke isn't cooking, it isn't unusual for him to spend his free time at the front of the house. He's a craft beer fan so he enjoys being a customer and hanging out with other "hopheads" enjoying the brewery product, which is apparently a past time Cooke has enjoyed for many years.

"Definitely, I have fallen in love with craft beer since I started here," says the beer fan who loves pairing beer and food for those who get the connection and enjoy the two together.

Four Way Fruit Ale and Honey Glazed Ham

Ingredients

  • 1 bone in cooked ham
  • 1 bottle of Howe Sound Brewing 4 Way Fruit Ale
  • 1 litre of honey

method

Place ham, fat cap up, in an uncovered roasting pan on top of a few sticks of celery or carrots to prevent the bottom of the ham from getting too dark.

Score the fat cap by putting 5mm crossing cuts about 2cm wide across the top of the ham.

Mix equal parts honey and ale to make the glaze.

Slow bake at 250 Fahrenheit, glazing every 15 minutes until ham reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees. It will probably take three to five hours depending on the size of the ham and the oven. So you may want to pick up a couple bottles of beer.

Slice and enjoy.

(Save the bone and leftovers for soup.)

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