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Tap and Table: for beer bellies with a cooking problem

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Sunday afternoon, a small group of local foodies gathered at Tap and Table headquarters to enjoy a four course meal, each course paired with an American craft beer. As Tap and Table’s motto hails, it was a culinary event for "beer bellies with a cooking problem."

Darin Michaels and Emily Baime, who run Community Tap and Table out of their home, offer four to eight cooking classes a month, and are even available for private parties. July’s gourmet food and beer pairing focused on "Makin’ Bacon and summer flavors."

Michaels and Baime started these classes due to their mutual passion for good food and great beer. Michaels has a background in brewing and works in beer and wine distribution. Baime, who started her career in catering and event management, solidified her love for cooking while traveling abroad. Together, their shared hobbies have become a fun and engaging way to introduce others to a hands-on culinary experience.

After starting off small, catering their classes to a group of friends, Tap and Table’s Gastropub feel has gained popularity.

"We are coming up on our one year anniversary in August. We have filled about 400 seats total,” explained Baime.

Any given class could accommodate from four up to eleven people. A bigger group might mean a livelier class with more courses, whereas a smaller class could provide a more intimate setting for cooking and teaching.

Sunday’s cooking class was an intimate and laid back environment with only six people in total. The task at hand, cooking a gourmet meal, seemed less daunting in such a casual and comfortable setting. Class attendees enjoyed appetizers, drinks and introductions while awaiting the start of the session.

Together, Michaels and Baime started off the class by introducing the menu, giving a background on their ingredient selections and explaining any food preparations done prior to the start of the cooking session.

"We try to buy most of our ingredients organic and local," Baime reported.

Sunday’s class featured bacon and ribs sourced from local, hormone free, farm raised pigs.

Students had a hands-on demonstration of home curing pork belly into delicious nitrate-free bacon and were given a lesson on the differences between factory made, flash-smoked bacon and the artisan bacon they would be tasting later on in the day.

Two different kinds of home-cured bacon
The ribs were prepared earlier that morning by coating them in plain mustard and a special spice rub that included brown sugar, curry, paprika and a pinch of cayenne. Michaels happily admitted that they got up at seven to prepare for the afternoon class, and that the ribs would be on the barbeque for a total of six hours.

Following the initial discussion, the class was split up and assigned recipes in groups. Jessica and Dave Grigsby, who jointly tackled the first course, admitted this was their second Tap and Table class.

"I don’t normally enjoy drinking beer," stated Jessica, explaining her initial hesitance to attending last month’s Carnitas cooking session, "but the class was so much fun!"

The first course consisted of honey-glazed nectarines with a chimichurri sauce. The fruit was brushed with creamy honey and grilled on the barbecue, then topped with sharp white cheddar and an accompanying sauce. The surprising, but delectable, combination of flavors in this dish is a favorite among class participants.

Course one
This dish was paired with Pyramid Apricot Ale, a lighter wheat beer. As attendees enjoyed the first course, Michaels gave some background on the beer selection and the reason for this particular pairing. The beer’s apricot flavor complements fruit and cheese dishes.

In between courses, Baime shared some personal stories relating to her interest in cooking. During a year abroad in Australia, she was involved in a cooking competition called Tasting Australia. She later traveled around Europe and participated in similar cooking programs.

"Food does not have to be hard!" Baime explained, emphasizing the fun aspect of playing around with simple ingredients and recipes. This fact was evidenced in the simple, yet full bodied flavor of the second course.

A simple salad was next up, topped with a creamy dressing and two different types of bacon. The bacon, which had been smoked and cured beforehand, was cut into thick cubes and fried similar to pancetta. One was cured in a mesquite rub with maple syrup and spices; the other was encrusted with pomegranate salt, juniper berries, bay leaves and rosemary.

Course two
The juniper bacon was the all around favorite.

"It’s like bacon nirvana,” said Jessica Grigsby, “it just doesn’t get any better."

The second course was paired with Lost Coast Downtown Brown, a beer that won the gold medal in its category at the California State Fair and also medaled at the Great American Beer Festival. Michaels explained that the roasted malt flavor was big enough to complement the animal fat in the second dish.

Blackberry babyback ribs
The third, and main, course consisted of slow-roasted babyback ribs with a blackberry barbecue sauce. The ribs were served with jalapeño infused rice. The sauce was made with the same porter that Michaels paired with the dish. The Black Butte Porter is a rich, dark beer that complemented the sweet flavoring of the ribs. The beer comes from Deschutes Brewery in Oregon and uses a lot more malt than the average porter.

Black Butte porter
The final course of the evening was spicy chocolate paired with the Old Rasputin Imperial stout. Class participants experienced bites of balsamic and cinnamon chocolate while enjoying the rich, delicious beer.

spicy chocolate
Michaels described stouts are "the axe murderer of all beers," and explained that the full-bodied taste is meant for desserts or courses at the end of a meal.

Rasputin Imperial stout
By the end of the fourth course, class attendees were satiated with excellent food that they learned to prepare themselves, and a recipe packet of all foods served. Tap and Table focuses on providing culinary knowledge based on a local, seasonal menu.

Upcoming classes include Bacon and Microbrews, Summer Jams and Preserving Tomatoes and even a brewery tour. June will also feature guest chef Buddy O’Dell of Paragary’s Restaurant Group, while July will feature guest chef Shane Tracewell. 

Joining the club is free and each class has nominal fee that covers food and beverages. Any excess costs are donated to a local non-profit that connects the community with food.

Community Tap and Table cooking classes are a gastronomical experience not to be missed. Come hungry because you will leave with a very full beer belly.

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