After working for noma, (ranked “the best restaurant in the world” by Restaurant Magazine for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014) and heading up R&D for superstar chef David Chang, Nova Scotian Daniel Burns opened his own restaurant in NYC in July 2013. Luksus features a tasting menu paired exclusively with beer—that’s right, no wine, spirits or other alcoholic tipples are offered. And the pairings are unexpected—challenging old rules of beer and food matching—and mostly delightful. When I made a pilgrimage there to eat for TAPS magazine, I also quizzed Burns on the intersections of beer and food. But I couldn’t fit all of what he had to say in the TAPS story, so I’m thrilled to post this bonus Q&A where Burns breaks down his take on beer, food and what inspires him:

I loved the meal last night, especially the carrot parfait for dessert. Where do you get your inspiration?

I want to keep things seasonal so that means sweet things too. I chose carrots for right now and thought about when you roast carrots, you put cumin seed in there. It’s a base for inspiration and then carrot parfait is a pretty old school thing to make. Modernize it a little bit, make it a bit lighter than a traditional parfait would be, and overall refreshing and less fatty.

The biggest thing is to focus on the flavours that you want to highlight in the dishes and just make it super clean and highly focused. You can’t have things on the plate battling each other instead of getting some harmony going. It can be harder to think about what few things you want to focus on—so that’s my approach with my dishes thus far—a small amount of things on the plate.

I guess that stems from working at noma and Scandinavia, cleanliness of the flavours.

I see a lot of parallels with what’s happening in brewing right now. For example we’ve moved from an experimental era where brewers finally felt the freedom to throw just about anything into a beer, and then chuck it in a bourbon barrel, to a focus on creating a crisp, clean, sessionable beer that showcases a couple of elements.

Yes there’s totally a parallel with beer. Less is more for the most part.

You had the idea to open a restaurant, but it was Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø

[who owns Evil Twin, a gypsy brewery] who had been dreaming of a restaurant that paired only beer with fine food. So when he proposed the idea to you, why did you go for it?

Jeppe and I have just gotten along as super good friends from the very start. We’re a similar age and at similar points in our careers, so it made sense on a lot of levels. And to be able to do a tasting menu in a small environment, quite intimate, with an amazing twist of beer-focus only? I love beer and I know it makes a lot of sense with food. It’s not something I thought about doing for many years, but having the chance to work with someone as prolific as Jeppe on the concept, it made perfect sense to go for it.

When you are creating your menu, how do you conceive of the beer pairings? Do you just focus on the dish, or do you think about what kind of beer style might marry well with certain flavours and make adjustments? Or is that just way too hard?

It’s way too hard to say something like, ‘I want to make a dish that goes along with Berliner Weisse.’ I think it’s impossible.

Basically, after the dish is conceived we figure out what flavours we want to focus on and just look at those in terms of choosing the beer. When we’re changing the menu I send an email out about main flavours of the dishes on the new menu and then I leave it up to Jeppe and all the people who lead the beer program here at Torst and Luksus to discuss among themselves about what beers might work with those flavour components. They order in three or four different choices for each dish, we taste it and make decisions from there.

The big thing about it is that we can’t rely on kegs as much, so the tasting menu has to be more bottle-focused. We have occasionally brought in a keg for a pairing but we tend to steer away from it. We need to have it in the bottle so it’s accessible.

How do you decide which beer to choose? Do you find it tough to reach a consensus?

It’s a matter of people tasting as many to have the broadest view to decide what works best.

The main decision is, do you pair the beer with flavours that directly link or are in competition? The classic is chocolate and stout, sweet and sweet, blah, blah, blah. So we ask, can it be more interesting to do something that’s malty and a little bitter beside the chocolate, instead of being a little sweet? If the beer can, in a sense, not coincide with flavours, but add to the entire experience then the pairing becomes more than the sum of its parts. The food and the beer are one whole harmonized thing.

You are one of the only fine-dining restaurants in the world to offer an exclusively beer-pairing element to your tasting menu—no wine at all. How seriously do you take the pairing component?

It needs to be inherent to what we’re doing. Not many people have tried food at this level with beer so it’s a great platform for opening people’s eyes with exciting combinations. It’s almost a duty at this point. We need to be very consistent in what pairings we want to do and talk through why we choose to do it.

Yes, people are making pilgrimages here to try food and beer at such a high level.

Yes, people make a pilgrimage here, but most importantly in any city, and especially in New York City, we have to be a neighbourhood restaurant first and foremost, because those are the people who come in on Tuesday or Wednesday and support you. Part of the reason seasonal restaurants change their menus monthly is so that people who live in the neighbourhood can come once a month.

So do you do all the cooking for Torst too? You guys have a more casual menu.

Yes, I do all the cooking for Torst’s Sunday roast, and all the menus for bar and the restaurant. Sunday Roast is the antithesis of the Eggs Benedict—it’s the anti-brunch, and it’s super tasty. That’s the one thing I loved about living in England.

Would you consider yourself a beer nerd?

No, I would not be very keen in learning more about it. I taste as much as I can and learn as much about it as possible, it’s similar to my experience with wine. I’m never going to know the regions properly. Generally my palate is fairly good to taste the nuances and styles.

What beers do you have in your fridge right now?

I have the Bellwoods bottles that you gave me, and I have the Bikini Beer—it’s a session beer, that one—and the Falco IPA of Jeppe’s, that’s one of the best beers that I’ve tasted in a long time. I’d say it’s my favourite beer from last year by far—an interesting, almost summery IPA, not overly hoppy, quite floral and super refreshing.

Do you think that an exclusively beer and food pairing menu could work here in Canada?

Canada for sure; I think it could work anywhere that people are interested in beer. The interest in beer is growing exponentially, and in small pockets everywhere people are getting super serious about it, so I can’t see any reason why not. It doesn’t have to be a tasting menu restaurant, but why not do something a little ambitious that would be interesting for the beer world?