LENOX Old friends Matt Rubiner, owner of Rubiner's Cheesemonger and Ruby's Café in Great Barrington, and Bjorn Somlo, chef and owner of Nudel Restaurant in Lenox "work together, confer and talk all the time," according to Rubiner.
Over the past two years, they have presented a dinner at Nudel featuring some of Rubiner's cheeses. This year, they have added wine and beer expert Joad Bowman to their mix.
"The three of us have worked together in different capacities, but [we] have not worked on one single event. 'We wanted to do something fun and interesting using incredibly talented people," Somlo said last week.
"Beer and cheese-pairing is very popular these days," Rubiner noted.
Bowman has been at Brix Wine Bar in Pittsfield since its beginning in June, 2005. He is in process of buying Brix and has just opened Thistle and Mirth, a beer bar "two doors down."
Somlo spoke of how the three men collaborated to create the cheese and beer dinner.
"Each person handled what he did the best," he began. "We started with Joad Bowman. Joad picked out [five] domestic bottles of beer in large format. All domestic."
Large format bottles are usually 22 ounces, with some a bit larger, some a bit smaller.
Bowman, called himself "the lighter collaborator. The other two are really the ones [who should take credit for the dinner]. I just picked some beers. They're doing all heavy work, the hard work, the pairing.
He chose his beers because he "thought they would be interesting pairing challenges for Matt and they were beers that I like," he said.
Rubiner said that he and his crew had "tasted and tasted and tasted over the last two weeks. We've done our best to nail [the pairings] down."
"The first course is everything in its basic form this year," Rubiner said.
"We are adding an educational component this time," he said. "We're doing a directed tasting in the beginning.
[The dinner is] not quite a class; it's mostly just eating.
But it satisfies my desire to teach and it satisfies Bjorn's desire to have people understand the ingredients that form the basis of his art."
In 1994, Rubiner left a career in private sector defense policy to get into the food, wine and restaurant business in Boston because, he said, "Cheese seemed the sort of subject I could spend a life studying and never get bored.
I was also very involved in the Slow Food movement."
He opened his own cheese shop in Richmond in 2002 and his Great Barrington store and café in 2004.
Rubiner now so enjoys teaching about his passions - cheese, chocolate, homemade corned beef - that he has been giving seminars and tastings.
Somlo said that after "Matt Rubiner tasted the beers and paired them with cheeses, he felt truly complimented them, they both handed their information to me." The dishes Somlo will come up with for each cheese will depend on what farmers have brought and on what other ingredients he has on the day of the dinner. He said he plans "to do as little with [the cheeses] as possible, to serve them simply, to honor the integrity of the cheeses. We'll see what comes through that door."
In the last couple of months, he has created cheese dishes on his regular, nightly menus that might start with the familiar, but subtly or quickly, change over to fresh and original foods.
Mac and cheese had ham in it, but it had Brussels sprouts and melted onions; or split peas, potatoes and crispy pork belly added to that ham.
A Caesar salad was made with kohlrabi and calamari, and chickpea fries; or crumbles egg, potatoes and lentils in addition to Parmesan crumbs.
Angus beef meatballs were made with blue cheese, and garnished with more blue cheese, smoky onions and a raisin bordelaise sauce.
Somlo served crispy Monterey chevre with everything from a mixture of fennel, endive, marinated leeks, poppy seeds, pistachios, sweet wine and beet vinaigrette to endive, pistachios, oranges, herbs, seeds and beet vinaigrette or endive, pears, walnuts, herbs, sherry and black radish.
Inventing what he calls a simple dish, based on whatever ingredients he finds he has, is the hallmark of Somlo's cooking - always with an imaginative, personal twist.
Rubiner is very enthusiastic about Somlo's approach to food and his results. He said he appreciates "the mad scientist side" of Somlo's preparations - foams, molecular gastronomy.
But Rubiner stressed that Somlo grounds his fancies with solid knowledge and experience using traditional cooking techniques and only the best ingredients.
"Bjorn is very much about ingredients," Rubiner said.
"I can 't explain where [Somlo's inventiveness] comes from," Rubiner said. "I see this every time I go there.
Bjorn takes whatever fresh and local ingredients he has on hand on any given day and turns them into something no one else would ever think of - and it is wonderful! He is one of very few [chefs] who can fly by the seat of his pants and [because of his traditional cooking background] he's not winging it."
He said Somlo will be "taking these cheeses and transforming them" for the dinner.
Somlo said, "We will talk about the beers that have been collected, Matt will talk about the cheeses and how they go with the beers and I will be cooking with the cheeses."
"The beer - and all its nuances - is playing the part of wine in the pairing," he continued.
"The cheese that Matt has collected and the beers that Joad has collected will be an event in themselves," Somlo concluded.