Private Chef at Urban Comfort | Beer Guide at Atlas Brew Works
How did you get into beer?
On my walks to work, I would pass the Atlas brewery daily. I’ve been to breweries here and there, but not that regularly. In doing catering work with clients, people often asked for Atlas beer. Sometimes, we couldn’t get it so the clients would get it themselves. I was like, “Okay, maybe Atlas has something going on over here.”
One day as I was walking along my route, my intentions were to go to one of the distilleries in the area. Instead, I walked into Atlas. It was awesome. From that day forward, I made it a regular pit stop. Walking home, I’m passing it anyway, so why not go to Atlas? Then as I thought a little more about it, I figured, “If I’m spending so much time at Atlas, why not start making some money?”
Was there anything about Atlas that made you think, “this is a place I could work?”
The environment was always welcoming. So welcoming that it got to the point where we were closing with the barbacks. The question to me is really what makes me continue to work at Atlas.
That’s a much better question.
It’s everything that Atlas has. From the people that are there and the place that they’re positioned, it’s about the location, it’s about the facility, it’s about how they give back to their community. Myself as an individual, who is learning the business of beer, I started from the outside. Now that I’m on the inside, I can see there is a great deal of business ethics involved in the beer brewing process.
How do you like working metal nights?
Metal nights are pretty intense. Oh man! They are intense.
Do you remember the first beer you ever had?
Probably a Corona or a Heineken.
What was the first beer that turned you on to craft beer?
I was in college at the Culinary Institute of America and my chef came to visit. We went to the local liquor store and picked up some things. He picked up what I called a Sophie. It was a brown bottle with a gold label. “Sophie Blonde” was what I called it. I opened up the bottle and got foil all in my mouth. I finally get it open - minus the foil - and taste it. There was a wow factor upon the first try. Like, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting this,” and “Wow, this is pretty tasty.” I later found out that it’s an Abbey Belgian ale that’s not named Sophie - it’s Leffe Blonde. I’d been calling it Sophie for two years. That was my first Belgian beer that made me say, “Wow, I want more of this.”
What is it like working as a man of color in a super white industry?
I guess I always put myself in situations like this. At the Culinary Institute of America, the ratio was probably about 1 to 100.
Like 99 white people and 1 person of color?
Yeah. There were probably four of us that graduated with our program. I’ve been put in this environment before. I just came from an ambassadorship in Spain, and I was the only black person in the kitchen, so I’m kind used to it. In beer period, you don’t see a lot of people of color drinking beer. Not that there isn’t people of color drinking beer, but in terms of how many people you see at an actual brewery, you don’t see that many. One of the issues with the beer industry is they don’t appeal to the taste of that audience all the time.
You see a lot of African Americans come into Atlas, and they want something that tastes like a Blue Moon. What is it about that Belgian wit or Shock Top they are going for? It’s because maybe that citrus is there or that spice, something in there that’s not killing their taste buds like the bitterness of an IPA.
That’s interesting because I would always be worried about overgeneralizing one group’s taste. But I do think there is something about the extremes of beer that is informed by white masculinity. You know, like, we’re going to be the most bitter, have the highest ABV, double-dry hop and triple imperial –
Like metal, right?
Yeah, like metal! (Note: Atlas has regular metal nights with a range of metal bands performing.)
It’s gotta be the hardest of it all.
Do the metal folks come in ordering the IPAs?
They are looking for the darker beers, actually. Like our NSFW -- that was something that was ordered a lot.
Are there ways you’ve experienced racism or discrimination in the workplace?
I want to say no. We know it’s there. It can be very subtle. I’ve never experienced racism or discrimination at Atlas. I just recently started going to other breweries, and the fact that I can have a discussion about beer, I know it alters the mindset of the bartenders a lot. When they know I can talk beer, they are shocked and also maybe excited to have the conversation. It’s there. I haven’t personally dealt with it. Atlas is pretty diverse. We’re in a neighborhood where there is a lot of gentrification, but the people who live there still try and come through. They just want to see what it is.
One thing I’ve heard from other people of color is that they feel responsible for the experience of every person of color who comes through the door. Do you feel like you have to be an ambassador for other people of color?
When we have crowds that come in with people of color, a lot of those people are not up for the more experimental beers. I feel that it’s a great duty to be able to introduce them to taste the beers that might be outside of their realm and talk about their likes and dislikes. For me, I started out in Belgians. I just love Belgian style beers as a whole. I only just got into IPAs. An introductory IPA beer that did that for me was Atlas’ Dance of Days.
Not the Ponzi?
See, besides going straight to the Ponzi. Everyone asks me when they come in, “Hey, what do you think of the Ponzi?” And I’m like, “Oh, I hate the Ponzi!”
You tell people that?
Absolutely! Because you are asking my opinion, and I say I don’t like IPAs. Every week, I try to go back to it to see if I’m getting something different from it. I do feel it’s a great duty to be able to allow people to taste different beers and find their niche.
The industry is also very male-dominated. How do you try to counter misogyny and sexism as someone who has more leverage with other men?
I was raised by single African American woman. I worked for my mother. I worked for my auntie. I’ve had female chefs and instructors that I’ve worked under. I have great appreciation for women in the workplace. If I see it, I don’t tolerate it. I just think, well, that’s my mother, or that’s my sister. I think now you are starting to see a lot more women in the breweries.
Although I do think it’s more white women in the industry. There are very few women of color.
Oh yeah. There’s very little color in the food and beverage industry period.
What style of beer do you think is most overrated right now?
IPAs! IPAs, IPAs. You have so many other styles. IPAs is just killing your taste buds.
What about a beer that was super hyped, and when you had it you realized it was overrated?
Goose Island 312. Once they went mass, they got overrated.
What beer is in your fridge right now?
I have Rowdy. I just did a braised oxtail with Tomb Essence. I did a baked beans with the Commoner. I have Dance of Days. I have a District Common.
You have the entire Atlas line up in your fridge.
I do. It’s really bad. I have some Goose Island. I have Anderson Valley Gose. I have some beers from Portland, Maine by the Bissell Brothers. I have DC Brau Wings of Armageddon. That’s delicious.
Whoa, I thought you hated IPAs?
I have these beers because I want to cook with them. Some of these beers I just taste them, but sometimes I want to see what that hop does to something.
I feel like some people would be like, “I can’t believe you poured a can of Wings into beans.”
I mean, I’m a Belgian lover, so I don’t have to be a purist about this!
What’s the next thing you are planning to cook with beers?
I’ve been messing around with the Commoner. Directly what’s on my radar is that I have a couple of growlers of Gose and I’m currently working on a sorbet to see how that comes out. Also, I want to see if you want to use it as an aperitif, or a mezze, or whatever else. I’m thinking about different angles in using it for my menus while introducing new palates to Atlas beers.
If you were on your way to an event and you stopped in a 7-11 or a mainstream grocery store without a lot of craft beer, what would you pick up?
Oh, I’m going with Yuengling.
Yeah, that’s my quality quantity. When I was in New York, I had to decide between what would be like my quality quantity and what would be my quantity. Quality quantity would be whatever I’d want to drink a lot of and really enjoy it. That’d be Yuengling. And then if I was just getting quantity, I’d get Miller High Life. But now, I do not like the Yuengling here in DC. I don’t know if there is a difference here. Either my palate has developed that much or I just need to go back to New York.
I have a feeling it tastes the same everywhere, so maybe it’s your palate. But you know, the owner came out in favor of Trump, so a lot of folks swore off Yuengling.
Oh, man. I didn’t even know that. Luckily I haven’t had one in a while.
What about if the apocalypse happens and you could only have one beer for the rest of your days?
I’m thinking about Chimay, maybe a red or a blue.
So the good stuff.
If I’m gonna go, go right.