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Louise Leonard, winner of ABC's 'The Taste', on craft beer and respect

Beer-and-Oysters.jpg More and more, we're seeing craft beer represented in mainstream media. Recently, food stylist Louise Leonard brought her love of craft beer to ABC's "The Taste", where she not only talked a big beer game, she won the whole darn thing. I found Leonard when the New York City bar "The Blind Tiger" tweeted her a note of congratulations. Leonard tended bar at the Blind Tiger for 10 years, graduated culinary school, and is now a food stylist for magazines and television, among other gigs. She spoke with me this week about cooking with beer, doing a show with Anthony Bourdain, and more.

Question: On the show you were an advocate for craft beer. Has beer gained traction in the media?

I don't look at beer as trendy. I always thought it was under-appreciated in terms of pairing, and in terms of cooking. I was super happy to represent that on the show in a beautiful way. My job is to make food delicious and make it look good. Long gone are the days of beer drinkers as bearded, fat men sitting around eating a bunch of fried food.

Hopefully people watching said, "Wow this is cool, here's this chick who cares about and elevates this blue collar ingredient to something more."

Q: What kinds of beers do you like to drink?

Sours are awesome with food, especially with really rich, buttery foods. Butter-poached lobster paired with a nice salad, that sounds so delicious right now. It used to be difficult to find sours in bars and bottle shops, but now you're seeing them more and more.

I like west coast IPAs. Funky, earthy ciders. those are amazing paired with food also. If someone throws me a can of PBR at a BBQ, I'm not going to say no, I'm going to drink it. But if you care about food and care about things that taste good, why would you sit around drinking Budweiser?

Q: One of my frustrations watching the show was that you did a cooking challenge involving beer without beer being talked about in any kind of depth. I sensed that was frustrating for you as well.

You couldn't say any of the names of the beer on the show. When I would talk about beer, it was completely beyond the producers. They didn't know what I was talking about, so they didn't edit any of it in. The beer challenge, I was literally livid. They had given us 10 [crappy] lagers from around the world, one stout, and Lagunitas IPA. It would be like giving someone a challenge and saying, 'The only ingredient you have to work with is 10 different kinds of baloney.'

They didn't get it. I realized during the beer challenge that I'm not going to get a chance to geek out and talk about it because that's not what they're looking for.

Q: I'm a big fan of Anthony Bourdain's other shows (he was one of the hosts and judges on the show), but it's always annoyed me that he's never given more thought to beer.

Now every hipster and their brother is into good beer. He must think it's too pretentious, and he's a down-and-dirty sort of guy.

I feel like if you could sit Bourdain down in a room with some really cool beer people and show him all the things going on, he'd dig it. Not all craft beer drinkers are hipsters. There are awesome women brewing beer. I think he'd really like it.

Q: For the beer challenge you made a chili. What would you have done on the beer show had you had a full arsenal of beer to choose from?

I wanted to do some sort of lamb. I love, love, love braised lamb shanks. "Lamb-ic shanks." The judges would have felt it was interesting and creative and a little out of the ordinary. At the end of the day you still have to make due with what you've got.

I feel like this is a message I've been trying to relate for years and years and years. It's great that I won, obviously, but the biggest thing I wanted to do was wow them with this beer challenge. The more that we put it out there in the media, the more people will get it.

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