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Ask the Chefs: San Antonio's Jeff Balfour and Les Locke Jr. on Great Brews and Texas Eats

Hilary Deutsch

March 30, 2016

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Set in the historic former home of the Pearl Brewery, San Antonio’s Southerleigh combines modern coastal cuisine, Southern comfort fare, and housemade craft beers. Chef Jeff Balfour and brewmaster Les Locke Jr. will join us at the Beard House to treat guests to an evening of tempting flavors and robust brews. In anticipation of their event, we chatted with this dynamite duo about their Beard House menu inspiration, their favorite places to chow down in Texas, and why they always try to lead by example.

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What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event?

Jeff Balfour: The inspiration behind the menu is to highlight the dishes that left the biggest memory on me growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast. While the dishes are not identical to the ones from my childhood, they're definitely what inspired this menu.

Les Locke Jr.: At Southerleigh, we are super focused on the juxtaposition of beer and food, and how we can find a balance between the plate and the glass. We're going to showcase what Texas, and in particular San Antonio, brings to the craft beer industry.

What's a dish on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why? 

JB: I'm the most proud of the simplest dish on the menu. The Saltine Cracker–Crusted Gulf Red Snapper with Jumbo Blue Crab Butter. This dish really focuses on the quality of the product that comes from the Gulf area. It uses minimal ingredients and allows you to taste the beautiful flavors of the fish and crab.

What’s your guilty-pleasure food or drink?

JB: I would have to say American cheese. It fits so perfectly between bread or on a juicy burger. Nothing beats American cheese on a burger—it's a total guilty pleasure.

LL: Lone Stars beer and any Mexican beer!

Tell us about the last great meal you ate.

JB: The last great meal I ate was at Le Pigeon in Portland. I had a simple cassoulet that was perfection. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

What are some of your favorite beers to drink right now?

LL: Besides mine? Hmm, Ballast Point has a pineapple IPA that is very tasty. I've also recently had Martin House Dankasaurus which is delicious. And my new West Coast IPA—the best beer I've ever made—is called Don't Fear the Dank Side! I'm very proud of it. 

Who's been your biggest inspiration, and what dish would you serve to thank them? 

JB: I have too many inspirations; too varied to list. But my father was my greatest inspiration for sure. He would always question me, tell me how I should do things differently, and of course I wouldn’t listen, but he’d still beam with pride at what I’d come up with. He wasn’t a "by the book" home cook—his willingness to try things and change things up inspired me at a young age.

LL: Locally, it has to be Jason Davis from Freetail. Nationally, some people I've looked up to for years are Jaime Jurado now at Abita, JBF Award winner Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head, and Garrett Oliver over at Brooklyn Brewery. Super great minds with well-balanced beer. They all approach our art as just that, art.

What are the best places to eat in your city these days? 

JB: There are many great places to eat in our city, too many that I haven’t been to and need to get caught up on. But I'm very fond of what they're doing at Cookhouse, Mixtli, and Bliss. (Check out the menu for Mixtli's Beard House dinner on April 28!) Shuck Shack is great for a leisurely afternoon. Bohanan’s for impeccable service. Aldaco’s, La Gloria, and Los Barrios are my go-to places to take out-of-town guests. The Rickshaw Stop food truck is out of this world, as well as Thai Dee for a great hole-in-the-wall spot. I know I'm leaving something major out—San Antonio is exploding and there are new places to try everyday.

LL: For breakfast and breakfast tacos it has to be Regio Cafe. Best in the city. For lunch, I'm partial to Josephine Street. For dinner and late night, I'm always quite impressed with the food, drinks, and of course beer at Barbaro. Plus, it helps that it's two blocks from my house!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?

JB: A crusty old cook I worked with in Austin once told me, “Fish rots from the head down.” Not only is it sound advice for dealing with fish, but it also rings in my head every time I start or think I can’t finish my day. I want to lead by example, I want to always be able to get on the line. It keeps me happy and energized about what I do. If I get in there and go at it with the best attitude, the staff will do the same.

LL: Well, for me, it's always been about two things when it comes to brewing. First, be clean. We must clean all day, every day, and you'll be wet most of the time. Secondly, without oversimplifying it, you've got to understand basic plumbing. Follow the liquid: where do you want your beer to go and what do you want it to do? This alone has always been a guiding process to understand all aspects of brewing.

View all upcoming Beard House events and book your seat at jamesbeard.org/events.

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Hilary Deutsch is editorial assistant at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram.