Two of our chefs – El Gaucho Seattle’s Executive Chef Matt Brandsey, and El Gaucho Bellevue’s Sous Chef Sarah Brinlee, were invited to attend the Certified Angus Beef ® Chef Summit held in Wooster, Ohio last week. The Chef Summit is a chef only event with sessions covering meat science, menu ideation, and product utilization. Chef Matt shares about his experience.
Up until about three months ago I had never heard of Wooster, Ohio, let alone point it out on a map. Where’s Wooster, and what’s so special about it, you ask? It sits 35 miles south of Cleveland, and is home to the Certified Angus Beef® (CAB) Headquarters, our primary beef partner since our founder Paul Mackay opened El Gaucho Seattle in 1996. Twice a year they hold a “Chef’s Summit,” an invitation only, two-day event on beef education, training, and chef networking.
Sarah (Brinlee) Scott, El Gaucho Bellevue Sous Chef, and I arrived late one evening after a full day of travel (there is no easy route to Wooster, we discovered!), and were welcomed to their newly built Culinary Education Center. It’s a massive building containing a restaurant, conference area, and classroom. It’s impressive, and we were ready to learn!
After a brief brand overview and introductions, we got right into what we do best…eating and drinking, of course! Our meal was crafted by the genius of CAB corporate chef, Michael Ollier, Tony Biggs, and Amy (last name unknown…but her desserts were KILLER!). We feasted on 70-day, dry-aged New York Strip, scalloped potatoes with a beef bacon crust (OMG), and grilled romaine Caesar salad. It was good… damn good.
That night – I’m not going to lie – I was like a kid before going to Disneyland. I couldn’t sleep. How could I? The next day we were to watch Dr. Phil Bass, CAB’s very own Meat Scientist, break down a half of a cow. That’s right, a doctor of meat science and an amazing teacher. I was stoked.
The next morning, we all met in the back kitchen, and there it was in all of its glory, hanging by a hook from the ceiling. For the next five hours Dr. Phil Bass guided us through the entire process of breaking down one of these bad-daddies, and it was nothing short of educational and entertaining. I’m going to say that it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen. I know Sarah can attest.
That night we were served another awesome meal provided by Chef Mike and his staff. The weather held out, so we all sat on the patio. After dinner we headed to the court yard, where a fire pit was blazing, music humming in the background, and a bunch of chefs sitting around like sailors telling tales of their journey through this never static industry.
The last day of our trip we had the awesome opportunity to listen to Waldorf Astoria’s former chef, John Doherty, talk about leadership. John spent 25 years with the Waldorf Astoria and was the hotel’s youngest Executive Chef at age 27! He was also a graduate of the C.I.A, and garnered more awards than Michael Phelps. He shared the ups and downs of his time at the Waldorf, and how he coped with running a gigantic institution and balancing his personal life. He was so inspiring.
The Summit concluded with an Iron Chef-style cooking competition. We were paired into groups and had 90 minutes to prepare an appetizer and an entrée using the bottom flap of the sirloin and a judge’s choice of steak.
As luck would have it, Sarah and I were paired together, and we were given the coullote for our judge’s choice steak. I couldn’t have been happier. The coullote is one of the best parts of the Top Sirloin. If cooked and cut correctly it has tremendous flavor and tenderness.
We all made a made rush to the pantry and started gathering ingredients. Sarah and I prepared a beef carpaccio, with a honey and brown sugar mustard, sautéed mushrooms, and arugula salad for our appetizer.
For the entrée, we grilled the coullote with crispy leeks, cauliflower puree, pickled onions, and shallots with bordelaise sauce and chili oil. While we didn’t win any food awards, we were presented with the “Most Zen” award, which meant we were honored as the most calm, cool, and collected team. I’ll take it!
Looking back, the action-packed trip was an absolute blur, but it gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the people “behind the scenes,” – the people who put a tremendous amount of hard work into helping create such a phenomenal product. I left with a deep sense of respect for, not only the animal itself, but the farmers who raise them, and complete gratitude for our partners and the relationships our company has built, like with Certified Angus Beef, so that we can continue to offer our guests the very best the world has to offer.