Sean Z. Paxton “The Home Brew Chef” is a larger than life chef, craft beer personality, and is one of those rare people that attracts a crowd when he so much as looks at a brewery. He believes in giving back to the industry that has given him so much and takes the time to connect with his audience, mentoring chefs and home brewers alike.
I saw him in action for the first time at the New Albion release party in January; it was very inspiring to see that he is as devoted to his fans as they are to him. When I first met Sean in a class at the Fatted Calf Charcuterie in Napa three years ago I had no clue that I was in the presence of celebrity. He has been a friend and mentor ever since. His ideas on flavor and deconstructing beverage to get an amazing dish have influenced the way I view beer and food. He is a herald of the craft beer industry and we are pleased to have him onboard as an Advisory Board member for Drink Careers 101.
Where did you learn the skills that allowed you to become the Home Brew Chef?
First I learned to cook, next to brew, then to cook with the beer I brewed and finally to write about it, for recipes, articles, website, etc.. Then from there, I had to learn how to talk about it to be able to do my podcasts.
I am self-taught. I learned what I did through obsessive study whether it was studying a new beer style, a cooking/brewing technique or a category of cuisine like vegetarian or vegan. You have to immerse yourself, research flavor profiles, organize them in your head (how are they different, what does this do, what that doesn’t do) and ultimately riff off of them. Just looking at the constructs of an idea and then reverse engineering it to find what you are looking for. These are the things that keep me up late at night.
At what point in your career did you discover your passion for cooking with beer?
I discovered my passion for cooking with beer pretty early. I was about 21, brewing beer and had a lot of excess beer from brewing 5 gallons at a time. I thought why use wine when I can use beer instead? In learning about each beer style, I learned what elements make up that flavor and how to make those flavors and manipulate those ingredients to make different flavors. I had an excess of a homebrewed German dopplebock, and started using it in my cooking. What that malty lager did in combination with morel mushrooms to make a sauce to go over grilled milk fed veal chops was insane. This showed me to look at beer as an ingredient. Through progression of trying tons of new things (Malts, hops, yeasts, water profiles to all the culinary ingredients) and discovering different flavor profiles, it was sort of crazy. Blend the brewing with the cooking and add a side of science and a dash of creativity, it all fell into place!
What is the best part about your career?
I have to choose?
Probably first, meeting all the wonderful people in our community. To me this is about creating memories, creating things with a unique beer style and finding the possibilities to express an idea through food with different cuisines. I love seeing what people take away from every dinner, every time each time I finish an event. All the work that goes into each event/article/recipe (beer and food) takes a ton of R&D and time. I try to create the ultimate menu, which I don’t get to sit down and enjoy, for all my guests. It is very self-less, a giving experience and I like being able to do that for them. I like coming up with that dish or that concept that gives them that great experience, whatever that maybe. Second, to work with so many creative people, both in the breweries, in the field selling beers to behind the scenes in the restaurants/hotels I get to work in across the country.
What collaborations have you done that you are particularly proud of?
All of them!
When I did Saucerfull of Secrets with Firestone Walker Brewing Co; it was the first Belgian beer they had ever brewed and we were able to create this wild homebrewed beer into a 50-barrel brew that was able to be shared with lots of drinkers. Next, I would say brewing with Tonya Cornet from Bend Brewing (now 10 Barrel Brewing) in Bend, Or. We’ve done 3 beers together and they’ve all been amazing (Desert Rose, Sexi Mexi, TBD Beer of Fall 2013).
I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure to collaborate with Allagash and De Struise Brouwers, brewing a Belgian-style blonde called Fedeltá. I collaborated a lot with Peter Hoey at Sacramento Brewing (since passed), and we did several really fun beers. One great one was Old Pappy, a wheat wine aged in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle wheat bourbon barrels and a really cool sour project. Then there was Monk’s Blood with 21st Amendment. I’m actually brewing in Santiago, Chile with Matt Brynildson (Firestone Walker), Fal Allen (Anderson Valley Brewing Co.) and Pete Slosberg (Pete’s Wicked Ale) on my trip to South America in May with Kross Brewery.
If you could offer one piece of advice to student thinking of a career in the beer industry, what would it be?
Follow your dream, even if you don’t know what it is yet. What I mean by that is, everyone has their own unique taste and experiences that make them who they are. To follow what drives us, no matter what, being passionate about our hobbies and what and how that can lead us to what our next chapter in life could be. You never know what might happen with all you learn and are able to share with everyone, in a glass, on a plate or typed in words.
Courage, dedication, and my love of the craft are the reasons why I have gotten where I am today.
Learn from your mistakes, because you will make them. And remember, there is no perfect. We are our worst critics.
Follow Sean in Twitter and Facebook.