Until recently, a number of Texas chefs were noticeably absent from the James Beard Foundation Awards, which annually recognize the best chefs and restaurants in the country. A San Antonio chef has never made the list of winners, but the Foundation is beginning to recognize the contributions of chefs across Texas, including this year’s James Beard finalist, Chef Steve McHugh of Cured at The Pearl Brewery.
That national recognition was recently extended to Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery, also housed at the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio, when the team – led by Southerleigh Executive Chef Jeff Balfour and Brewmaster Les Locke – traveled to the James Beard House in New York City, to share authentic Texas dishes and brews.
More than 60 individuals attended Southerleigh’s Coastal Texas Flavors and Microbrews dinner at the James Beard House on Thursday, April 7. The James Beard House, located in Greenwich Village, was once home to Chef James Beard. Today, it hosts some of the world’s best chefs, and allows guests to enjoy a thoughtfully prepared tasting menu, paired with beverages.
“It was a packed, packed house,” said Balfour, who hails from Galveston. On average, the James Beard House dinners attract about 45 guests, but the crowd was excited to experience authentic food and beer from Texas.
“It’s neat to see beer – and I don’t even like using the term ‘craft beer’ anymore – presented at the table,” Locke said. “But I think it’s safe to say we are the first to do a beer pairing at the James Beard House.”
The menu at Southerleigh celebrates Gulf Coast Texas flavors, and pairs them with a variety of rich and delicious beers brewed in-house. Locke and Balfour used that same collaborative approach to plan the James Beard dinner menu, and the result was a success.
Diners began the evening with small bites such as the pig trotter croquettes with Crystal Hot Sauce and sweet onion jam, and grilled Texas pork chops with salsa verde. Balfour, along with sous-chefs Sam Tate and JC Rodriguez, and Southerleigh General Manager Philippe Place, prepared antelope from Broken Arrow, fresh Gulf seafood from Groomer’s, and only stopped by Citarella in Manhattan for a few last-minute ingredients.
Guests enjoyed several courses including the crispy gulf snapper throats paired with Orange Cream Ale, grilled South Texas antelope loin with roasted duck ravioli, smoked tomatoes and Saba American Brown Ale, and the Texas pecan slab pie with brown butter ice cream for dessert, served with Coconut and Curry Fannie Porter.
“It really was a proud moment to be able to do (just about everything) ourselves. It was straight Texas, and very San Antonio,” said Balfour, who recalled how, just over a decade ago, chefs struggled to find all-local ingredients. “It’s a cool feeling to be proud of the products that we have and know that they could stand up on the national stage like that.”
The Southerleigh team received overwhelmingly positive feedback from diners, but they expect that positive reception to continue as a growing number of chefs from Texas and San Antonio are recognized for their contributions to the culinary world.
“I am fiercely proud of San Antonio, and I think in the coming years, we will have a better product than other cities around the state and certainly other cities around the country,” Locke said. San Antonio was once known as a “great beer hub,” but the growing number of local and quality breweries promises to “bring that pride back to San Antonio again.”
The Southerleigh team will soon head to the Untapped Beer Festival and the Food & Wine Festival in Austin, before they get ready for the Craft Beer Conference in Philadelphia in May.
It’s going to require a collaborative effort with other local breweries to position San Antonio as a “great beer city,” but “Southerleigh will very much be a part of that,” Locke said. “We’re really just getting started, but I expect us to continue growing and being a force that other cities look to.”
*Top Image: L to R: Brewmaster Les Locke and Executive Chef Jeff Balfour inside Southerleigh at the Pearl. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone