Jorge Guzman wants to make one thing clear: Minnesota can hold its own on the culinary front. “We know how to cook,” says the executive chef at Surly Beer Hall and Brewer’s Table in Minneapolis. The rest of the country is taking note. This year, Guzman was a semifinalist for a James Beard Award, and his leadership earned Surly a coveted spot on Food & Wine’s 2016 Restaurants of the Year list.
Guzman’s training started earlier than most: up until the age of six, when his family immigrated to the U.S., he spent hours in his grandmother’s kitchen in Mérida, Mexico, learning at the heels of her Mayan cook. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he worked in restaurants across the States, landing in Minneapolis in 2006. The Twin Cities’ growing food scene kept him around, and in 2014, he was tapped to helm the new culinary program at Surly Brewing Company.
His close partnership with Surly chef de cuisine Dustin Thompson has given Guzman’s cooking a Nordic note, but his Mexican background still looms large. At Brewer’s Table, a tasting menu might include both tamales with huitlacoche and arctic char with dill and sour cream. And each dish is crafted to pair with one of Surly’s 40 varieties of beer—foie gras tempers the tartness of a sour ale; a salad of bitter winter greens complements the sweetness of a hearty smoked porter.
Reservations for the Table are off the charts, and Guzman is quick to credit his team for the recent success. “I always hire people who are better at something than I am, so I can learn from them,” he says. That collaborative spirit is shared by many of his peers in the Twin Cities food industry, who see accolades for one of their own as a boon to all. “Chefs are competitive, but people here realize we have to support each other. It makes our city better.”