It was whispered amongst members of the North County craft beer intelligentsia: It’s still a good place and all, but it’s…different. That’s what happens when a restaurant becomes an icon behind distinctive food and its chef moves on. Such was the case with San Marcos’ iconic, English pub-themed haven for craft beer, Churchill’s Pub and Grille, when long-time executive chef A.G. Warfield left in 2013 to pursue a job opportunity to head the food-side of another ale-focused local business project. Although much of the Churchill’s menu remained the same, subsequent kitchen leaders struggled to maintain the consistency and standards of the Warfield era. It wasn’t bad, and the beer list never suffered. It was just…different.
Warfield resumed the helm at Churchill’s this summer and what’s old is new again, and the food he’s putting out is much appreciated by the clientele. That includes vegans, a contingent of which the restaurant’s proprietor, Ivan Derezin, is a full-fledged member. Since taking up this lifestyle in 2013, Derezin has made a point of including a plethora of vegan options on the restaurant’s menu; items that go above and beyond while packing in plenty of flavor (read: no bland portabellas or flavorless tofu up in this pub). The return of Warfield has allowed him to take such offerings to a higher-level, something that was demonstrated in delicious and creative fashion during an all-vegan beer-pairing dinner held in conjunction with AleSmith Brewing Company. (Disclosure: The author is now AleSmith’s Marketing Manager).
Rather than resorting to multiple courses centered around soy-based meat protein substitutes, nut-based cheeses and other typical staples of the vegan diet, Warfield utilized familiar fruits and vegetables in unfamiliar ways to replicate dishes such as sushi, Asian-style spare ribs and filet mignon. Some stars of the menu included watermelon and beet nigiri, blood orange and heirloom tomato gazpacho, and cocoa-dusted watermelon radish filets. It was anything but ordinary and indicative of the innovation and skill that has Derezin and his patrons so fired up about the chef’s return.
“In doing this event, the first thing I wanted to do was make the non-vegan guests forget that it was a vegan dinner,” says Warfield. “To do that, I made watermelon and golden beets resemble ahi tuna and salmon by presenting them in the style of nigiri sushi. By roasting both ingredients then marinating them, I was able to give them not only the appearance of fish, but the texture and flavor as well. This set the stage for the following courses, allowing guests to focus on the food and how it paired with the beers instead of the absence of animal proteins and products.”
Foods served chilled or room temperature are more common in the vegan culture, but many subscribers to this lifestyle talk of the great satisfaction that comes from warm dishes featuring flavors of deep caramelization common of grilled and roasted proteins. One of Warfield’s solutions for the AleSmith dinner was imitating filet mignon.
“For the main course, I was able to take watermelon radish and give it the appearance and texture of beef tenderloin,” says Warfield. Transforming a root vegetable into something resembling the most tender cut from a cow is outside-the-box as well as challenging, leading Warfield to explain his methods for doing so. “The natural color of the radish was a big help in replicating the experience of slicing into a nice, red, medium-rare filet mignon. And by roasting the radishes, then coating them with cocoa powder and olive oil, I was able to get great exterior color and char, which brought in meaty flavors.”
But remember, developing interesting and tasty dishes was only half the mission here. There was also the requirement that each dish pair with the evening’s beers. That’s a tall order when working with the flavorful brews of AleSmith, especially bold offerings such as Summer Yulesmith double India pale ale and Barrel-Aged Speedway Stout. The former was paired with spicy, caramelized “spare ribs” made from citrus fruit, while the latter was the go-with for Warfield’s take on beef tenderloin.
“The bitter cocoa helped balance the sweetness of the beer and I topped the ‘filet’ with brûléed figs to further connect the dish and the beer,” says Warfield, whose more straightforward fare is available daily. It goes over nicely, but pairing events like this are where he has a chance to show just how versatile he is, no matter the challenge.
“This was one of the most challenging dinners I have ever done, but also one of my favorites. It showed me that vegan cooking can be about a lot more than just tofu and seitan.”
Editor’s note: Coming up, Churchill’s has a Green Flash Cellar 3 dinner on 11/10 and a Lost Abbey dinner on 11/12, both as part of San Diego Beer Week (Nov 5 – 16).
Vegan Radish “Filet Steak”
Yield: 2 steaks
Paired with AleSmith Barrel-Aged Speedway Stout
1 cup salt
½ cup water
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup cocoa powder
2 large watermelon radishes
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour the cup of salt into a mixing bowl and whisk in water until a paste consistency is reached. Coat the radishes with the paste, making sure to pack it on as if making a snowball. Place the radishes on a baking tray and roast for 3 hours. Remove from the oven, remove the salt casing and peel the radishes.
Preheat barbecue grill. Whisk the olive oil and cocoa powder together. Slice the radishes in half and toss in the olive oil mixture. Season the radishes with salt and pepper. Place the radishes on the barbecue and grill for 4 minutes on each side. Remove the radishes from the grill and serve with vegan mashed potatoes and roasted seasonal vegetables.
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Vegan Tuna Nigiri
Yield: 12 to 14 pieces
Paired with AleSmith Gingered X Extra Pale Ale
1 small watermelon, cut into 1-inch-by-1-inch-by-2½-inch slices
1/3 cup soy sauce, plus extra for serving
3 Tbsp flaxseed oil, plus extra for serving
2 Tbsp kelp flakes
1 pound sea beans
1½ cups prepared sushi rice
2 sheets roasted seaweed, julienned into thick strips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange the watermelon slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 2½ hours, or until the watermelon are browned on the bottom and shrunken to about 1/3 of their original size. Remove from oven and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Place a layer of paper towels on top of the watermelon, applying gentle pressure to extract all of the juices out. Let stand for 15 minutes.
While the watermelon is draining, whisk together the soy sauce, flaxseed oil and 1 tablespoon of the kelp flakes in a large, non-reactive mixing bowl. Add the sea beans and watermelon, stirring to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
To serve, rinse the marinade from the watermelon. Pat the slices dry with paper towels, then squeeze on a small amount of flaxseed oil. With wet hands, roll the rice into small cylinders and dust the tops of the cylinder with some of the remaining kelp flakes. Top the rice with watermelon and wrap with two strips of seaweed. Garnish with sea beans and serve with soy sauce and wasabi paste in separate condiment dishes.
—Recipes courtesy A.G. Warfield, Executive Chef, Churchill’s Pub & Grille
Disclosure: Brandon is now the Marketing Manager for AleSmith Brewing Co.