Brewing battle: Pork fuels the culinary competition at Starr Hill’s Oktoberfest

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On Saturday, Starr Hill Brewery will celebrate the shorter autumn days and the coming harvest by throwing one heck of an all-day party and a culinary challenge in which Curtis Shaver (Hamiltons’), Harrison Keevil (Brookville) and Thomas Leroy (Kardinal Hall) compete for The Best in Octoberfest award. Photo (left to right): Justin Ide, Cramer photo, Ashley Twiggs On Saturday, Starr Hill Brewery will celebrate the shorter autumn days and the coming harvest by throwing one heck of an all-day party and a culinary challenge in which Curtis Shaver (Hamiltons’), Harrison Keevil (Brookville) and Thomas Leroy (Kardinal Hall) compete for The Best in Octoberfest award. Photo (left to right): Justin Ide, Cramer photo, Ashley Twiggs

In an effort to do justice to the tradition of Oktoberfest—that much-beloved historical occasion enjoyed by generations of brewski connoisseurs the world ’round—Crozet’s Starr Hill Brewery will, for one day only, transform its taproom into a brauhaus replete with musical entertainment, culinary extravaganza and a smorgasbord of German-influenced beverages.

“Germany’s incredible beer history has been a major inspiration for the beer we brew at Starr Hill,” says brewmaster Robbie O’Cain. “I actually attended brewing school in Munich, and obviously that’s had a huge impact on my career.”

In celebration of this influence, alongside staple offerings like The Love Hefeweizen, Jomo Vienna Lager, Starr Pils, Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter and Debut #5 Maple Brown Ale, O’Cain has put together a number of small-batch specialties including the Festie Oktoberfest Lager, the Smoke Out Rauchbier (a bacon festival hit) and a new Helles Bock brewed just for the occasion.

Upping the ante, Starr Hill has invited three Charlottesville chefs to create a customized Bavarian-themed dish, one of which patrons will award the Best of Oktoberfest. Making the competition all the more appetizing, each chef’s entrée will feature some breed of specialty pork product courtesy of Nelson County’s own field-to-fork butchery The Rock Barn.   

To discover what Curtis Shaver of Hamiltons’ at First & Main, Harrison Keevil of Brookville Restaurant and Thomas Leroy of the new Kardinal Beer Hall might have up their sleeves, C-VILLE Weekly checked in for a bit of friendly, pregame handicapping.

C-VILLE Weekly: What kind of surprises should attendees of the Oktoberfest be expecting?

Curtis Shaver: I’m definitely going with traditional Oktoberfest fare—sticking to German Bavarian roots. I’m thinking, people are going to be walking around with beers, so why not give them something that isn’t a lot of fuss, something they can eat with their hands? So I’m leaning toward a sandwich-based dish, but an off-the-wall sandwich. Something that’s completely unique that people have never really had.

Harrison Keevil: For us, the wow factor is going to be that every component of our dish—aside from the pork we get from The Rock Barn and the buns we place it on—will be made in-house. We’re going to put extra love and care into every aspect of this dish, down to the condiments.

Thomas Leroy: We’re going to do a really traditional German street fare dish, the kind of thing you could actually find on the streets in Germany. But we’re going to custom-make the sauce and also have the sausage custom-made as well, which is going to lead to something authentic and unique.

Tell me what’s going to make your dish take the competition’s top spot?

CS: Well, obviously it’s going to taste amazing [laughs]. But primarily, I’m going to take a basic idea—a sausage sandwich for instance—and put my own spin on it. It’s going to sound good and familiar, but taste like something even a really gifted cook could never in a million years reproduce at home.

HK: I’m going to take exemplary ingredients and allow them to mold the direction of the entrée. Simultaneously, I’ll incorporate beer into as many aspects of the dish as possible. Furthermore, I think that The Rock Barn’s [owner and master butcher] Ben Thompson is creating some of the best pork products around. And I’m going to use that to my advantage.

TL: I’m going with something simple but startling—a definite crowd-pleaser that’ll complement the beer. It’s going to have an approachable flavor profile but with a slight curveball. I’m French, I’m from New York, and I know the shared core techniques of European cuisine. I’m going to put that knowledge to use and make something delicious and unique.

The world of culinary arts is notoriously competitive, but that isn’t necessarily in-your-face-and-direct, it’s more of a passive, consumer-driven feedback sort of thing. What are the merits of entering into a public competition for all to see?

CS: Honestly, bragging rights. That’s a big, enjoyable plus [laughs]. But really, while the restaurant business is competitive market-wise, all of us chefs know one another. We’re friends that, because we all work crazy hours, don’t get to hang out too often. So for me this is an opportunity to hang out with some guys I like, have some fun and get a little publicity in the process.

HK: It gets us outside our own kitchen and allows us to have some fun with fellow colleagues. It’s great to cook awesome food next to guys you enjoy and respect. Also, it’s an opportunity to highlight great local beer and The Rock Barn’s really exemplary products.

TL: This is great exposure. It allows people to discover what they can expect from Kardinal and it’s a social event, where the chefs can look at one another’s dishes and styles and get some feedback. It’s always great to get opinions from your culinary peers—it’s fun to feed off one another’s ideas.

–Eric J. Wallace