Chef John Tomain of 50 West Brewing Company crafts every menu item with one goal in mind: It has to go great with beer.
“We’re a brewery first,” he says. “We just happen to have food.”
But as any fan of the brewpub will tell you, the food is not exactly an afterthought. Tomain hails from a food-oriented family and has been cooking from scratch since college. After running the kitchen at Keystone Bar & Grill for a few years, Tomain signed on as 50 West’s first executive chef.
Tomain has made the menu into a who’s who — or a what’s what — of comfort food. The dishes not only go well with the brews on tap, they stand on their own. And his chicken pot pie is a perfect representation of the relaxing atmosphere he and his team hope to create.
To make Tomain’s chicken pot pie at home, a simple trip to the grocery store will suffice; when it comes to ingredients, he isn’t picky.
“Cooking is about making the best of what you have,” he says.
Though his chicken is always free range and hormone free and he sources his vegetables from Lasita & Sons, a local produce company, he believes that a really good dish is more about execution than expensive ingredients. Since Tomain himself works with four electric burners and has no deep fryer in the brewery’s kitchen, he is also living proof that you don’t need a fancy set-up to make something great.
For those who want to improve their comfort food-making skills, Tomain has a few tips. His first bit of advice is simple: “A lot of chefs are going to say this,” he says, “but cooking is all about seasoning.” This includes salt, pepper and — Tomain insists this is just as important — sugar. When cooking with foods that have a natural sweetness, the slightest bit of added sugar can make all the difference.
Secondly, when preparing a dish like chicken pot pie, making your own stock is always the best; that way you have complete control over salt content. It only takes leftover chicken bones, celery, carrot, onion, a bay leaf and water to make a solid stock. But using no-sodium stock from the grocery store works, too.
Tomain has faith that after learning the basics, improvisation is the name of the game, even for beginners. He compares making food to making music — there are instructions in front of you, but at the end of the day, it’s all about what you want it to be.
Finally, the beer. Tomain incorporates 50 West’s Eleanor Belgo-American Blonde into the pot pie’s biscuit topping and recommends serving the dish with a tall glass of the stuff. It’s a lighter, crisper option with just the right amount of spice to complement the creamy, stew-like pie.
Chicken Pot Pie
- 1 whole chicken or 2 lbs of chicken breasts/thighs
- 64 oz. homemade or no-sodium chicken stock
- ½ gallon-¾ gallon water
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 1 lbs parsnips
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 carrots
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 onion
- 1 sweet potato
- 2 Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 bell pepper (green or red)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 2 sticks of cold butter
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
- Pinch of black pepper
- 4 oz. beer (Belgian works great)
- 4 oz. buttermilk
Instructions: Salt and pepper chicken and roast in a preheated oven at 300 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour (or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees). Peel and rough chop parsnips and add to stock in pot. Cook until soft, then puree the parsnips with the stock. Add diced vegetables and parsnip mixture to pot and continue to cook on medium heat until vegetables are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add chicken and cream. If the filling is not thick enough, add a roux (equal parts butter and flour) or slurry (equal parts cornstarch and water).
For the crust, cut butter into small cubes and place in fridge. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugar and pepper into large mixing bowl. Add butter into flour mixture and crumble by hand or stand mixer. Add buttermilk and beer and mix until dough is formed. Place dough in fridge for 15 to 30 minutes. Roll refrigerated dough on floured surface until ¼-inch to ½-inch thick and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Cut to desired shape and place on top of pot pie filling. ©