Sunday, July 27, 2008

Love My Tender

I have fought more battles over beef tenderloin than any other product. I have five menu items that are garnered from beef "tenders" including my biggest sellers filet mignon, in 8 or 12 ounces. I also serve tournadoes of beef, twin steaks cut from the tapered ends of the tender, beef satay using smaller trimmings and a steak sandwich. It's important that I get good tenderloins. They are not created equal. The U.S.D.A inspects and grades most commercial meat products in this country. Any beef products for sale to the public must be inspected. If the product is shipped over state lines it must be Federally inspected. USDA grading is voluntary. So if you see meat for sale at the local grocer that says USDA inspected it is usually meant to confuse the customer. ALL meat must be inspected.

The grading system for beef is "Standard" (sometimes referred to as commercial), "Select", "Choice" and "Prime". Within each category are sub-categories in regards to marbling or "yield grades". So when I order USDA "Choice" from a purveyor it may not be the same quality as another suppliers "Choice" product. Also there are some unscrupulous suppliers that will fudge the system and try to pass off "Select" for "Choice" and "Standard" for "Select". I specify USDA Choice for all my beef products. I also require yield grade 3 to 5. The higher the yield grade the more marbling (flavor) there is. I also want to mention "Angus" isn't a grade, it's a type of beef cattle. Because something is "Angus" does not make it better. The Angus folks have done a nice job of marketing. I usually try and avoid it. It's not worth the added cost.

Alot of restaurants serve "Choice" beef. Few serve "Choice" tenderloins. The reason? They are very expensive. Even some of the big "steak houses" don't serve "Choice" filet mignon. What is usually served is the same product you'll find in the grocery store, "cow" tenderloin or "Commercial" grade. An eight ounce cow tender will cost about three bucks. The same portion of "Choice" product is between 10 and 12 bucks. So when you're looking at a menu, think about the cost of the steak, and everything that comes with it and ask yourself if this restaurant is selling me a quality filet mignon at $19.95?

In addition to the grading, age is important. I like to "wet" age for 21 days then dry age for another seven. Proper ageing makes for a firm yet tender steak. My test for for tenderness is literally "fork tender". You should be able to cut through an eight ounce filet with a fork. Granted it won't cut easily but it should cut through.

Within the tenderloin itself is a difference in quality. The best cuts, typically filet mignon, come from the "barrel" or "Chateau" section of the tender. That's the very center from which only three "barrel" steaks can be cut. (The photo above is a 12oz Choice, barrel cut filet.) Next is what is referred to as "center cut", the portion of the tender that begins to taper. Then there is the "butt" and the ends. All quality product but best suited for specific uses. If you look at the beef tenderloin video in the side bar you'll notice the smaller steaks being cut from the tapered section of the tender and the larger ones from the center.

We serve a "barrel cut" filet mignon and tournadoes which are "center cut", if you watch the tenderloin video on the video bar you can see the larger steaks being cut from the barrel and the smaller filets from the narrower sections of the tender.

Most steak eaters have their preference of cut. I happen to be a "filet guy", many people I've talked to believe the filet lacks flavor and prefer a New York or ribeye. I contend that they probably haven't had too many good quality filets. In my opinion a well marbled, aged, "Choice" filet eats as good or better than just about any other cut. Just be prepared to pay top dollar for it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I'd like to congratulate Jesus Cruz (aka Cacho) my sous chef, on the birth of his daughter yesterday afternoon. He warned me when he came in that he thought today would be the day. I didn't doubt him. Of course it would be on a Saturday night.

I'd like to welcome Michael Walsh, a chef from Cleveland who's been writing a blog similar to this one since 2006. In the link section you can find him at "A View From The Kitchen".

I've been searching for chef's blogs and have been surprised how few of them are out there. Many are just vehicles for promotion. I try and stay away from that but I will occasionally use this blog as a tool to communicate with my customers.

Chef Walsh's blog comments on National and local trends, personal feelings and professional experiences. Much in the same style as I do. Photos also play a big role.

As I discover other chefs blogs I will add links.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Africa Hot

It's that time of year again when the thermometer passes 90 and the dew point over 60. It's freaking hot in my kitchen! It easily reaches into the low 100's during a hot shift. Conversely in the winter it's freaking cold. We have an old-school ventilation system that doesn't have "make-up air". Hence we have to keep the windows open so the restaurant doesn't have negative air pressure. If we didn't, in the winter we'd suck air down the chimney, thus no fire in the fireplace and in the summer we'd suck the air conditioning out of the dining room. It's already hard enough to cool this big ole building. So we do what cooks have been doing since discovering fire........sweat. After a hot spell we get used to it but it is uncomfortable. I remember last year I woke up Sunday morning after a hot and busy Saturday night with the worst headache of my life and it just wouldn't go away. I thought it was because I had been on the wagon for a few days but after doing some research discovered it was a symptom of dehydration. Geez, that after drinking a six pack of 20oz Gatorades during my shift AND being on the wagon.
To combat the heat we do a couple things: I order Poweraid by the case with our Coke order. We keep it in the cooler and I encourage the boys to take advantage. We also throw some in the freezer for Poweraid slushys. I also just started sporting the latest Chefwear fashion, for lack of a better term, "Capri's", "clam diggers", "high-waters", or "petal pushers". (For all you baby boomers out there) I prefer the term "clam diggers" myself. I remember wearing them as a boy. Hey, they may look funny but they work, It is much more tolerable wearing the mid-calf pant. The added leg ventilation makes a big difference. We also don't wear chef jackets, It is more comfortable wearing the light, white, short sleeved "cooks" shirt than chef whites. Probably due to my lack of formal training and my maverick streak I have never been a fan of chef jackets. However I do keep a nice clean embroidered jacket on hand for when I venture into enemy territory. (The dining room)

If you see me in the dining room this time of year it's probably not because I'm shmoozing with the customers. It's because I'm getting old and it's harder to stand the heat. So if you see some middle aged guy with arctic cammo clam diggers on say hi but please don't make fun of my pants.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Salty's Knives (Click on photo for close ups)

Bob Kramer Meji 240 Damascus

The workers all dressed in black

Three Michael Raders

Kanemasa Mukimono

Shigefusa 240 Kitaeji Gyuto and Mizuno Tanrenjo 240 Suminigashi

Michael Rader Small Santoku

Shigefusa 240 Kitaeji Yanagi

Shigefusa 270 Yanagi

Speaks for itself. Arguably three of the best gyutos in the world.

Masamoto 240 Gyuto White Steel Mizu Honyaki

Shigefusa Nakiri

Nenohi Kiritsuke. This is one sexy knife. Unsusual characteristics. It will take some practice to master it.

Misono 360mm stainless bread knife. If you want to spoil yourself get a good quality Japanes bread knife. Incredibly sharp. This thing tears up cutting boards.

Old faithfull. Hattori KD 180mm santoku. I've owned and used this knife for seven years. (As you can tell) It's in need of refurbishment.

Watanabe 270mm Damascus sujihiki. This knife is unreal. The steel feels unworldly, as if from another planet. Used primarily for sashimi. Double beveled.

Seki Cut Deba. Used like a small clever. Also great for breaking down whole fish.

Masamoto 360mm hon-kasumi yanagi in white steel. My go to sashimi knife. Some people dis Masamoto, I think this is a superb knife.

The Queen Mother of all knives. Mizuno Tanrenjo 390mm special blue steel honyaki yanagi. Select ebony handle with hand tooled silver. Ebony saya (sheath). Traditionally used for sashimi I also use it for slicing boneless whole roasts.

Yawakawa (or something like that) santoku. I bought this inexpensive knife on ebay to try out the Japanese handle. (Which I liked) Surprisingly sharp handy knife.

Togiharu 180mm santoku. A good all around knife. Nice edge and retention. Used often for everyday prep.

Takeda 240mm cabon (white) steel. The blade on this thing is huge. A cool rustic look. Great long lasting edge. Especially for white steel.

Carter Funayaki 203mm in white steel. This is one sexy knife. Used alot. Much like a santoku, great for slicing and dicing just about anything. Very thin blade so you have to use discretion when using. Extremely sharp.

Sabatier utility knife. Old school French made knife that I use more as a pairing knife.

Mr. Itou 190mm Gyuto. This one is like the hot rod in the garage. Rarely taken for a spin. The handle is a matter of taste. Some people think these bold knives are gaudy.

Fugiwara 270mm stainless sujihiki. Although this on is single beveled. I use this often for sashimi and tataki. Also occasionally as a filet knife.

Hiromoto 270mm carbon steel gyuto. Used for rough prep. Great for lettuce, cabbage etc.

A.E.S. Damascus barbeque knife. My much maligned Argentinian bbq knife. A thick informal knife that in Argentina is traditionally brought to outdoor barbeques.

Global Vegetable knife. This remains from the old guard. Good for cutting soft vegys.

Mr. Itou paring knife. I don't use paring knives much but this one is cute.

Misono Honkotsu in Swedish Carbon Steel. Sturdy knife for cutting anything with bones. I use it most for cutting between the bones of rack of lamb during service. I'm still looking for a Japanese knife to trim tenders.

Chroma Eight inch Chef's Knife
This used to be my every day knife. A good sturdy journeyman's knife.

Hattori KD 210 Gyuto. It doesn't get much use but this knife is the "Ferrari parked in the garage". I'll take it out when the weather is nice just for the sheer pleasure of driving it.


It's been a couple weeks since we've changed the menu and for the most part I'm happy with it. I've already done the usual tweak and changed the tuna and the rib eye. The tuna was a little ambitious for the kitchen staff and the customers. The rib eye is an absolutely gorgeous steak but when I changed the menu price to where it really should be sales fell drastically. I continue to be frustrated with the fact that a lesser steak is being served in many restaurants in Milwaukee for $10 more. I decided to bring back the New York strip which I can sell at a lower price. It's also a beautiful steak and will probably be more popular but I'll miss the bone-in beast.

I've started to dry age my beef tenderloins and strip loins. It will improve the quality and hopefully help set us apart from our competitors. The strip is a 14oz dry-aged USDA Choice product. Served with a bourbon-Dijon sauce with garlic-chive mashed potatoes. ($29) If I may add, bargain priced IMO. The tuna will be panko encrusted, lightly pan seared, sliced and served with ponzu glaze and sauce Maltaise. I'm purposely making the Maltaise (orange accented Hollandaise) a little thin so we can do a drizzle effect on the plate.

As far as logistics go it's been an up and down battle. It will take myself and the boys a little time to get in a rhythm. Business has been surprisingly strong so it's been a challenge.

New salad plates will be arriving next week after an unexpected delay. Square white plates that I think will add a little style to the presentation. White rectangles and squares are all the rage these days. I've incorporated both into the new menu.