In early fall of 2011, Laura Lodge approached Todd Bemis, Vail Cascade Resort & Spa’s executive chef about an upcoming beer-and-food event. It would be Lodge’s 12th year coordinating the popular Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival in Vail, CO, one crucial element of which are the two dinners held on consecutive nights. Each dinner features two breweries, and each course is paired with two different beers—an intriguing challenge even for seasoned beer chefs.
“She wanted to bring another chef in,” recalls Bemis, “or wanted me to get ahold of another chef to come in and do one of the two brewers dinners, and then for me to do the other one, because they wanted them to be as different as possible. And I looked at her and told her, ‘That’s kind of like letting someone drive your Ferrari.’ ”
As it worked out, Bemis would instead split up his in-house team of chefs, with him and Executive Sous Chef Jay Spickelmier tackling the main Brewmasters’ Dinner, and chefs du cuisine Stephen Belie and Maria Sacconi coordinating the Calibration Dinner the day before. While some of the chefs either had experience with the previous year’s event or came in with some homebrewing knowledge, the event’s concept and intricacies were new to Bemis.
Born in Edmond, OK, and raised in north Texas, Bemis started cooking professionally at age 16. He’s managed hotels and overseen banquet operations. In his position at Vail Cascade, he and his team accommodate more than 1,000 daily visitors during peak holiday seasons. Logistics weren’t the issue.
As Bemis explains, “I grew up in Texas, and my idea of beer was, you sit down on a log after you mow the lawn and have a beer.” Bemis would be responsible for formulating a five-course pairing menu for the festival’s main dinner, which would highlight two industry heavyweights: Breckenridge Brewery from Denver and Bell’s Brewery from Kalamazoo, MI. The event also would be Bemis’ first foray into craft beer.