Find your creativity with three different takes on an ubiquitous protein.
Chefs are constantly learning and challenging themselves to explore new flavors, textures and techniques. For the sake of culinary art—and their customers—they’re motivated to push the boundaries.
Even when it comes to a protein as common as beef, chefs find ways to stand out from the local competition. But staying inventive and fresh can be difficult without proper inspiration.
To that end, here are three creative ways that chefs across the country are serving up an American staple: beef.
Dish: DB Burger
Restaurant: DB Bistro Moderne, New York
“I always loved eating burgers in America, and I began daydreaming in the kitchen about creating a gourmet burger that combined iconic American elements with classic French touches—and that you could enjoy with a great bottle of red wine,” says French Chef Daniel Boulud, who created the first DB burger off-menu at restaurant Daniel in 2000, in celebration of his 30 years in America.
The next year, when he opened db Bistro Moderne—located steps from Madison Square Garden in New York City—he knew it would be on the menu.
The idea was to combine the refined preparation of the French “Tournedos Rossini” with the classic American template for a burger. The result: a ground top sirloin patty stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras and truffle, served on a homemade peppered brioche bun.
At the time, the DB Burger made it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive burger in the world. Of course, there have been others since. “But it has always been the best-seller at DB Bistro, despite the fact that it’s not a cheap burger!” he says. “The size, quality and taste are all quite satisfying, and customers come back again for the experience.”
Top sirloin as the main ingredient was chosen as a high-quality meat with a balanced amount of fat. “It is actually leaner than the average burger, but tastier and healthier for that reason.” Preparation takes a painstaking three days of work. First, short ribs are marinated in red wine with vegetables and herbs. On the second day, they’re braised; and the third day, they’re formed into patties filled with a ground sirloin mix of pulled short ribs, black truffle sauce, diced veggies and a nugget of roasted foie gras. The end product is a 10-ounce gourmet burger.
While the price tag fits the surroundings of Midtown Manhattan’s theater district, Boulud encourages other chefs to surprise guests with their own gourmet burger. “We always ask ourselves: What can we do better? And that keeps things fresh and exciting, even 16 years later,” he says.
As for great-tasting beef, it’s much the same as all cooking: balanced spices and seasonings. And with modern cooking techniques that allow for long cooking times at very low temperatures, “there are endless possibilities,” he says.
“The loyalty of my customers has for the last 25 years kept me motivated and excited to be a great chef in America,” Boulud says. “It’s very meaningful to contribute to the rising excellence in our industry.”
Cooking on the Edge
Dish: Rib Caps
Restaurant: Edge Steakhouse, Utah
As skiers and tourism ease during the summer months in Salt Lake City, it proves to be a difficult time of year for area steakhouses. In fact, many close their doors during the hot weather and pick back up with their fall menu in September.
If you don’t want to close your doors, you’ve got to be creative with technique and perfect with execution, says Executive Chef Ivan Ruiz of Edge Steakhouse at the Westgate Park City Resort & Spa in Utah.
“Our clientele changes in the summer; so we’re not bringing in the Wagyu, but we’re still bringing in the great cuts and using our creativity to stay profitable,” he says. “You have to understand flavors and how they marry together, and then you simplify and execute the dish perfectly, and that’s how you cut costs.”
True to its name, that’s when you might see more edgy creativity like chocolate pappardelle pasta or homemade popovers. “Maybe you weren’t expecting the dish to look that way, or we add fun components, or maybe even molecular gastronomy— because we want to play and have fun.”
While Edge Steakhouse has a location in Las Vegas, it’s the Utah location that won a gold medal for “Best Fine Dining Steakhouse”—for the third year in a row—at the Best of State Awards Gala in May. It also won first place in the “Best Steaks” category, which includes the whole menu.
The spring menu at Edge offered a 6- or 8-ounce selection of American Kobe (Wagyu) beef, antibiotic-free Prime Beef, and vegetarian-fed Angus Beef. However, Edge’s summer menu is decidedly lighter with braised oxtail and other uncommon cuts. “We try to cut back on some cuts. Instead of veal cheeks, you do beef cheeks,” he says. “The tongue, the head and the cheek; if you have technique, you can get creative with these ingredients and still wow people.”
A unique staple dish on the winter menu does just that, says Sous Chef Wayne Christian. Beef Rib Caps are a winter favorite for guests; but true to its motto, Edge Steakhouse takes it up a notch. The 8-ounce flat cut is trimmed, butterflied and rolled up like a roulade using Activa RM, or meat glue. Then it’s stored for a day in Cryovac and served sliced. “You get perfect 8-ounce pieces of rib cap, which is an incredible cut of meat that not many people are doing or really experimenting with at all,” says Christian. “And before we send it out, we baste it with the Japanese A5 beef fat that we rendered down, so it looks like a center cut filet.”
True to tradition, this signature a la carte cut is served with nothing more than good butter and garnish. “We’re not doing anything to this other than making sure it’s always cooked to perfection,” says Ruiz. Yet, taking the extra time in showcasing one’s culinary skills and the talent of your kitchen—in this case, the difficult task of preventing the Rib Caps from unraveling in the oven—allows your restaurant to shine culinarily, even during even the slowest of seasons.
Couple that goal with efficient cost-savings—such as baking popovers in-house—to stay competitive and profitable. “We’re trying to show our talent here and take that extra step toward being different from everyone else.”
Dish: Blended Burger
Restaurant: Luce, San Francisco
A mushroom burger that rejects any notion of cliche—that was the goal, says Chef Daniel Corey, of Luce [pronounced “LOO-chay”]at the InterContinental San Francisco. The modern American wine restaurant has been awarded a Michelin star eight years consecutively, starting in 2010.
In May, the James Beard Foundation joined with the Mushroom Council to host the Blended Burger Project, an internal competition among four InterContinental restaurants: Café Urbano in Mexico City, Table45 in Cleveland, Nob Hill Club at InterContinental Mark Hopkins and Luce in San Francisco. Chef Corey emerged victorious, earning himself a $500 gift card and bragging rights. He also walked away with what he feels is a menu best-seller.
“You’re hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like mushrooms, and there’s a level of interest where (customers) want to like it before they even taste it,” he says. “Our team seems to love it, too, back of house and front of house; they love talking about it and selling it. I didn’t see that coming, to be honest.”
The contest challenged the chefs to blend mushrooms with beef for “a more delicious, nutritious and sustainable burger.” Patties had to be at least 20 percent mushroom, but Corey went bolder with a 50-50 ratio of mushrooms to beef. “Even I was impressed. It was ‘mushroomy’ and delicious; it had all those qualities of the umami flavor that we wanted,” he says.
His team strategically chose mushrooms with lower water content. “We didn’t want filler; we wanted something meaty and tasty,” he says. They went with three varieties: maitake, shiitake and oyster, all of which he notes are not expensive but deliver an earthy flavor. After sweating them out, he adds truffle butter, porcini powder and garlic before roasting in the oven—determining “how dark and how deep” to roast is crucial. They’re then cooled and grinded to create a similar texture to that of ground beef. Then it’s slowly combined with the beef mixture via a paddle attachment.
Beyond the patty, though, Corey credits his homemade condiments for taking him to the winner’s circle: a smoked tomato marmalade for ketchup; and a vadouvan (an Indian curry blend) mustard. He tops it with Toma cheese and lightly fried shallot slices, which are again tossed in vadouvan. “So it was a really beautiful sort of crispy curried onion,” he says. The finishing touch was dressing up a plain burger bun with caraway, sesame and poppy seeds.
“It was balanced, and I think we had a perfect bite.” He encourages other chefs to put a healthier twist on their beef patties, too, with ingredients like beans, grains, nuts or even eggplant. “Those are good because they sort of emulsify and help bind the patties,” he says. “In San Francisco as a whole, chefs are pushing for not ‘health food’ but the idea of less fats, butter and cream, and they’re finding other ways to develop those textures.
“At the same time, you want your customers feeling satiated. So if you deliver on the goods, then it’s delicious, fun and interesting; It’s a talking point.”