BY ANDREW COPPOLINO
Chef Byron Hallett loves the synergy that exists between beer and food – that’s a good thing because he oversees the kitchen in one of Waterloo Region’s most interesting and unique establishments, Arabella Park Beer Bar in Kitchener’s Belmont Village.
A sort of hybrid beer bar and a tapas-style sharing joint, Arabella instantly became a hot commodity when it opened on December 7, 2016. They have an extensive bottle list along with an 18-tap rotating beer roster of the best beer and cider in the region and beyond. The kitchen uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, draws on local and Canadian cuisine for inspiration and engineers menus to match the current beers.
Woodstock-born, Hallett, 32, attended the Stratford Chefs School and worked at Oviinbyrd Golf Club in Muskoka before returning to the London area to cook. At Arabella, he set up the current food program.
“It was a new venture, in terms of setting up a menu,” Hallett says. “I’ve never really worked with a menu of this structure, I would call it. It’s not your typical apps-and-entrees type of menu.”
Hallett, now a Kitchener resident, doesn’t like to call them “bar snacks,” however – they are much more than that. “The process was to think about what we would like to eat while having a beer,” he says. “That makes these tapas-like dishes that come out of our ideas. We’re chefs so we thought of the food first and matched the beer.”
There could be anywhere from 13 to 16 dishes on the menu that change as much as the kitchen wants them too. “What I like about this bar is the ability for things to evolve and stay creative. We will always have something like French fries because it is a natural with beer, but we do try to think outside of the box.”
For instance, a pork and beans dishes might sound common enough, but Hallett describes that the beans are prepared “about seven different ways, including fermented.” The drive on the menu is to try to find ways to expand on classic combinations and add creativity.
In the past, they have created a “Cornucopia” dish of corn chowder, Johnny cakes, charred corn, caramel corn, and deep-fried pork shoulder. A veggie dish such as beets, rainbow chard, cherry tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, peas, radish, pizzo mustard, charred-leek aioli and ricotta might suit your tastes; or, how about “Milk and Cookies:” milk panna cotta, chocolate chip cookie, dulce de leche, shortbread and a caramelized milk meringue? There must be a dessert beer that goes with that.
“Mike Gibner is Arabella sous chef, who along with the rest of the staff, is collaborative,” says Hallett. “That makes it fun and interesting. If someone has an idea and it works, that cook’s dish is on the menu. That is great for them – and for the restaurant.”
Hallett is currently enjoying yeast-forward and sour beers, he says. “Although, I really like hoppy beers as well. My palate for beer has certainly grown since I started here. It’s an education and exposure to a lot of styles of beer,” which, he adds, is the whole concept behind Arabella that they want people to know about.
“We’re unique to Waterloo Region. I don’t think there is another place quite like this with our beer variety. In the food, expect something different, unique and new, too.”
Rapid-fire round with Byron Hallett
Explore Waterloo Region: Best thing you’ve ever eaten?
Hallett: Keep it simple: sourdough bread and butter.
Other career you could have pursued?
Hallett: Greeter at Walmart.
Hallett: Beer. And water.
Chef you’d most like to meet?
Hallett: Chad Robertson, Sean Brock, David Chang, Thomas Keller and Paul Liebrandt.
Do you ride a bike?
Culinary moment you’d like to have back?
Hallett: Meeting Charlie Trotter.
Greatest failed recipe?
A favourite teacher you’ve had?
Hallett: Kristian Crossen (London, Ontario).
Who would you like to cook for?
Hallett: My grandmothers.
Go-to late-night snack?
Hallett: Tandoori wraps at Hasty Market, near the downtown Kitchener bus terminal.
Best thing about being a chef?
Hallett: The long hours and no social life.
Favourite city, other than in Waterloo Region?
Hallett: London, Ontario.
TV chefs who annoy you?
Hallett: I don’t really watch TV.