Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chefs on Beef

When it comes to beef, the kind of you choose is truly a matter of taste and personal preference. There are different cuts, different preparations and of course different breeds. Me? I care about humane treatment of animals and healthy eating, but first and foremost I want something that tastes really good. And so do chefs. One the last day of the Certified Angus Beef conference in West Virginia I got to hang out with chefs at the bucolic Ironside Ranch. It was a great opportunity to eat, talk and learn what cuts and types of beef they serve and sell.

I spoke with three outstanding and award-winning chefs--Govind Armstrong who has been involved in a variety of different restaurants including a chain of burger joints, Keoni Chang, a corporate chef with a supermarket from Hawaii, who has a CIA culinary degree and a restaurant background and Matt Hill, a steak house chef who has also worked in fine dining and also has a CIA culinary degree. I learned while they each have their personal preferences, ultimately they all believe in offering variety to their customers.

Govind Armstrong, Post & Beam (and 8 oz Burger Bar), Los Angeles CA

I was excited to meet chef Govind Armstrong, especially after enjoying a fantastic meal he served the night before. His beef preparations included a sous vide then seared dry aged filet of strip and crisp smoked beef bacon. Govind told me he has been using Certified Angus Beef for many years, he first learned about it when he worked with chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. He was impressed with the quality and has used it ever since. He appreciates the consistency and though he uses different cuts at the different restaurants he is affiliated with, he's a fan of the culotte. The tenderness and consistency mean "it's one less thing I have to worry about." 

He enjoys good quality meat and told me he has spent time in Argentina where all beef is  strictly grass fed and finished. The beef is a different texture, but one he appreciates saying it's grassier but that it's not what he wants everyday. He uses the middle meats such as the strip loin and barrel cut (a marbled part of the rib eye). He's a fan of cooking beef sous vide and adds seasonings and clarified butter to add flavor and richness. He noted different in some places like Mississippi and Louisiana, everyone tends to want their beef well done and that affects his choice of beef as well. 

Keoni Chang, Foodland Supermarkets, Honolulu HI

Keoni, a chef with a fine dining background told me he was brought on board at Foodland to improve the quality of the perishable food in the supermarket from the bakery through to the deli. The store was offering mostly Select grade beef and he felt it was important to expand the options. He likes the Choice grade and tried another company's product before settling on Certified Angus Beef. His stores also carry local and grass fed beef. The population in Hawaii is used to often using thinner cuts for Asian preparations but he says they are starting to want more thick steaks they can grill too. 

Which is best? He says it comes down to a lifestyle choice for most people and he wants to satisfy as many customers as he can. He focuses on the sub primals such as the top sirloin, rib eye, strip loin and one of his favorite, the boneless short ribs off the chuck which he says has great marbling. When it comes to the Choice grade, he points out there is a lot of variation from beef that is just a cut above Select to beef that is almost Prime. With Certified Angus Beef, he says "we are getting close to the Prime experience."

Matt Hill, Charlie Palmer Steak, Washington DC

Matt told me he chooses Certified Angus Beef for the consistency it provides. He appreciates the higher level of marbling and tender product. In taste tests he preferred Certified Angus Beef dry aged strip loins to American wagyu beef, referencing the mouthfeel in particular. 

He also buys locally raised grass fed quarters and whole animals and enjoys breaking down the product in his restaurant. For grass fed he prepares carpaccio and charcuterie, while for Certified Angus Beef he is particularly fond of the culotte. He also admitted that farm to table is easier to do with pork than with beef. 

Note: Matt was one of StarChef's Rising Stars in 2010 and has just left Charlie Palmer Steak to work at a new concept. Stay tuned! 

Disclosure: I was a guest at the Certified Angus Beef conference and my travel expenses were covered, however I was not paid to write this or any other post.