Chef Thai Dang │ Make It the Best Experience You Can

Embeya’s Chef/Partner Thai Dang just got back from celebrating the Vietnamese Lunar New Year with his family on the east coast. If the first two months of 2015 are any indication of what kind of a year it’s going to be, the months ahead will be no less than an epic whirlwind.

To date, Dang hosted the Chef’s Social industry voting event for the Jean Banchet Awards at Embeya, bore the filmed stress of a Check, Please! segment [all thumbs up], received the Jean Banchet Award for Best Restaurant Service and successfully sailed through the grueling pace of Restaurant Week and Valentine’s Weekend.

  On March 7th, Chef Dang embarks for Vietnam on a “Culinary Journey” he is hosting for  R. Crusoe & Son. In addition to sharing local foods, culture and history with the tour, he will also cook for the travelers and take them to his family’s home where one of his sisters still resides today. (Pictured above: Vietnamese Fruit Market.) Follow his journey all next month on Twitter: @ThaiDangEats.

You just got back from visiting with your family, do you cook for them?

I cook for events. It [the New Year] is to give thanks to your parents who gave you life and to your ancestors. We are influenced by Chinese traditions and also add Catholicism to it. I brought my wife, she’s Italian American, for the first time this year. She loved it and was surprised by all the activity – all the kids get envelopes with money inside. I have six brothers and three sisters, and all of them have 2-3 kids. In Vietnam, businesses shut down for three days, and people visit each other.

I get made fun of when I go home because my family says I lost my accent. I was 6 when I came here, but my siblings were in their teens – plus they’re around my parents and the community there. I have the English accent when I speak Vietnamese now – do you see it? When I have an in depth conversation with them, sometimes it’s hard to find the words. They say the words I’m using, are very simple, like what a five year old would choose.

What do they say about your cooking?

They tell me my food tastes like home, but when they go home they can’t do it at home. That’s the best compliment my family pays me. That made me felt so great – that they can’t replicate it.

Around Town

What was it like to host the Chef’s Social for Banchet voting?

It went well. For me, I was cooking, and we were able to showcase the hospitality we have as a restaurant. We strive to show guests, even industry folks, what we’re about.

It’s not my food in the beginning because when guests come, it’s the experience they have with the hosts and the servers. I want to please the guests – it’s not about the chef and his ego.

How did Check, Please! go?

Great, but it all happened at the same time – during Restaurant Week. We got slaughtered every day; 200 covers a day during the week and 300 plus on the weekends. Then it was Valentine’s Day. It was crazy – we were going through cases CheckPleaseEmbeyaand cases of things.

Do you like doing Restaurant Week?

We LOVE Restaurant Week! A lot of restaurants don’t see to put out – the whole point is to showcase you can do great food at this price and give great service. To me, it is a challenge; I don’t get into that mindset of just putting up – some people were serving cookies and ice cream! ‘Cookies,’ really?

For two weeks straight we served a menu we were proud of. You can lose your soul when you do banquet food producing at a high rate like that – we skillet cooked each dish. ‘Don’t stop cooking,’ I told my chefs, ‘we don’t just want to serve people food.’

Cooking Lesson

How important is creativity to your process?

Creativity comes sporadically. It can happen when I’m inspired, or bored with a fish, or because something doesn’t sell. You have to take in feedback from the servers, customers, etc. – that’s where a lot of chefs are triggered by their ego. You can’t tell people they have to have it because you think that’s the way it should be. You have to change it; inspiration comes from the day to day.

If I see things elsewhere, it can give me ideas of how to do things. It’s pure, not based on easy, but the creative mind. That’s my goal. If I’m not creative, I’m not teaching my staff. We [chefs] need to be versatile. Sometimes I bring things in whole and then fabricate it myself.

Do you think self-fabrication has grown in recent years?

Yes, you can get anything today and quickly. I have that freedom to order and get things in. Sometimes I play with the product I get; you have to challenge yourself. I won’t say I can’t do anything – I have to try it out.

What have you fabricated most recently?

James [from Buedel] had the three bone plate split in half for me. Then I split it between the bone, so you can get the texture within the short rib where the meat and the tissues hold it together. The meat above the bone is different from the meat at the end of the bone – I wanted people to be able to taste the difference.

In Korean style, they eat bone on and cut it very thin. In Vietnam, we don’t use short ribs because we don’t use that cut. If it’s tough meat, we cook it until it’s tender.

Dang Short Rib (2)What did you make with the split?

Braised Short Rib with Grilled Royal Trumpet, Toasted Garlic, and Roasted Pearl Onions (pictured above). I hate braised meat that’s been seared hard, I find it loses its integrity because it’s already braised – it makes no sense.

We put the meat on a roasting rack with oil, salt, and pepper, and roast it at a high heat (500) for 20 minutes, turn it and roast for another 20. Then we make a braising liquid, add palm sugar, and then deglaze it, make stock and return it to the oven at 350° for one hour and then at 300° for 3 hours. We let it sit overnight in the liquid, so it cools it down, and we reduce the liquid by half.

The next day we baste it, deglaze again, add the royal trumpets, shallots, etc. – we fortify it. In Vietnam you cook in one pot; you should always be able to take a light spoon or fork to it to taste. All in all, it takes one day to make.

Skill Building

What’s your take on education?

When I tried college, I didn’t like it, I was lazy and didn’t have a direction then. Once I choose my path, I decided I wanted to be the best at it …better than my colleagues. I chose to put the work in and I learned so much working with Laurent Gras at L2O.

You have to invest in your craft, read cookbooks, go out and taste flavors. Everybody here has an opportunity; it’s up to you whether you want to be great. You have to set goals, instead of partying after work, getting up late and barely making it to work on time, etc. You have to look at yourself and ask, ‘Are you doing what you should be doing?’ No one is going to do it for you.

I also had to change too; I had to raise my maturity level – it had to be above the rest. I was 27 when we opened Embeya three years ago; now I’m 30. Do you want to do great things or not? It sounds simple, but that’s the reality.

It is a struggle to get cooks who are really ready to cook – their hearts are just not there – you have to have passion for it. I can tell how a cook is going to be just by how they handle herbs, how they set up their station. Cooking schools get them in and out, but they don’t teach them the real world. You’re going to get paid less than your servers and work lots of hours; you have to have dedication to your craft.

Whatever you do, even if you’re just selling tickets, why not make it the best experience you can? Everyone has a choice.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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8 More Beef Cuts Make the AHA Grade

Heart Check MarkBIG NEWS – eight more fresh beef cuts have passed the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Heart-Check test!

Meeting the AHA’s criteria for heart-healthy foods as “part of an overall healthy dietary pattern” is no small task. Given the fact the news broke during National Heart Month, it couldn’t have been better timed.

What does it take to get a lean stamp of approval?

The criteria used for heart-healthy consideration is based on science evaluations of nutritional requirements, values, and dietary recommendations. Here’s a look at the AHA guidelines set forth for lean meat:

Total Fat: Less than 5 g (also per 100 g*)

Saturated Fat: Less than 2 g (also per 100 g*)

Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g (also per label serving*). Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.

Cholesterol: Less than 95 mg (also per 100 g*)

Sodium: One of four sodium limits applies depending on the particular food category:  up to 140 mg, 240 mg or 360 mg per label serving*, or 480 mg per label serving and per RACC*.  (See Sodium Limits by Category for details.)

Beneficial Nutrients (naturally occurring or historically fortified): 10% or more of the Daily Value of 1 of 6 nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein or dietary fiber)

lean burgersThe latest cuts to make the grade are all considered “extra lean beef options”:

Extra Lean Ground Beef (96% Lean, 4% Fat)

Bottom Round Steak (USDA Select Grade)

Sirloin Tip Steak (USDA Select Grade)

Boneless Top Sirloin Petite Roast (USDA Select Grade)

Top Sirloin Strips (USDA Select Grade)

Top Sirloin Filet (USDA Select Grade)

Top Sirloin Kabob (USDA Select Grade)

Center Cut Boneless Top Sirloin Steak (USDA Select Grade)

What does this mean for you?

Creating a dining experience that encourages your customers to perceive your food as healthy is vital to your success in today’s market. –Alan Philips, QSR Magazine

Retail studies show the use of AHA Heart Check labels on qualifying meats and poultry items boost sales on average by 5%. Restaurants and hospitality who embrace health marketing strategies may want to add this to their mix.

grass fed steakMeat as a legitimate healthy dining option has enjoyed a boost in recent years too. Food Nazis were more than rattled last year when The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet hit the New York Times Bestseller List and won numerous awards.

According to the NRA, over 70% of adults are trying to eat healthier at restaurants more now than ever before. Incorporating heart-check appropriate notes on the menu could be a great way to enhance your healthy marketing options further.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Fine Swine: Dry Aged Compart Duroc

Dry Aged Pork ChopsWhat can you find that’s new, unique and affordable to put on your menu? Just when you think there’s nothing on the market that could beat the epicurean luxury of dry aged beef, Compart Farms delivers a stunning alternative – dry aged Duroc pork.

Think dry aged pork is crazy? Think again! Compart Duroc Dry Aged Pork can spark new business for your operation, drive higher food margins, delight your guests and build customer base.

What Makes Fine Swine

Where the Black Angus breed of cattle is synonymous with superior quality, the same phenomenon is also true of Duroc pork. Duroc pork has been identified and documented by the National Pork Producers as a superior genetic source for improved eating.

Duroc-BoarOften described as “red pigs with drooping ears”, Duroc pork is thought to have come from Spain and Portugal dating back to the 1400’s. Unlike commodity pork deemed “the other white meat” by the National Pork Board, Duroc pork is bright reddish pink in color.

Pigs in the Compart Family Farms’ Duroc sired meat program, are of the same genetic makeup and fed the same proprietary ration throughout the growing and finishing phases. This combination reduces the variability routinely found in the pork industry today.

Only Compart’s Duroc pork contains a higher percentage of intramuscular fat (marbling) and a higher pH. Unlike ordinary pork, it is more heavily marbled, yet still 96% lean.

How Dry Aged Pork Works

Dry aging is an old world tenderization process that creates a more complex flavor in the meat. The outside of the meat becomes hard and envelops a crust, while the meat inside the crust develops a fine rich, concentrated flavor and tender texture, as the natural moisture in the muscle evaporates. When the meat has reached its desired age, the inedible outer crust is carefully removed and discarded.

Photo Feb 16, 5 26 52 PMTo properly dry age you must have separated refrigerated space with precise temperature, relative humidity and air circulation controls along with specific UV lighting to control bacteria growth to create the perfect environment. Compart Duroc whole pork loins sit in their dry aging room for 7-21 days compared to longer time spans used for beef. A shorter aging period is possible because pork loins are smaller and more delicate than beef, and thus take less time to achieve the benefits of dry aging.

The naturally more abundant intramuscular fat present in Compart Duroc pork provides the ability to adapt to the moisture loss of dry aging while still retaining the juiciness in the finished product. These attributes deliver optimum conditions for the dry aging process.

The end result is a firmer yet tender texture with a well refined flavor finish. Dry aging combined with the favorable muscle pH and marbling qualities of the Compart Duroc breed elevates pork to a whole new level.

Bag It Now!

Photo Feb 16, 5 27 32 PMTraditionally speaking, pork has not been dry aged – until now. The best cuts in this category you can buy for your menu are Compart’s Duroc dry aged pork Porterhouses and Ribeyes.

Compart Duroc Dry Aged Pork is an affordable, exciting new option to enhance your menu. It gives meat loving customers a new dining option and helps you drive additional margins for your operation.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks │ 2.11.14

Bac-N-Rama

BaconFestTickets for Baconfest Chicago go on sale next week for the now iconic annual event scheduled for Friday, April 17th & Saturday, the 18th! There will be over 160 chefs and restaurants on hand this year which benefits the Chicago Food Depository.

Buy general admission tickets beginning next Monday, including those for special lunch and dinner events here.

The 20 Second Sell

BuyNowA recent Nielsen post, urges marketers to accept the fact that brand engagement weighs in little (if, at all) with consumers in the big picture of things when it comes to buying.

According to the article, the average online consumer took just 19 seconds to make their purchase, and the majority spent less than 10 seconds. Studies now suggest that buying decisions are made with and without brand names in mind –basically coming down to a proverbial crap shoot at the time of purchase.

For restaurants and like others, the best rule of thumb is to be fresh and consistent with advertising and original content both online and off. Stay visible and don’t expect a coffee klatch over anything you do.

Eataly Kudos

EatalyKudos to Eataly for being named to Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies 2015. Ranked in the 23rd slot of the top 50, Eataly is the highest ranked food company on the list – no easy task when you’re being called out with the likes of Google, HBO and Tesla!

The Facts of Love Valentine'sDay

Americans will buy over 58 million pounds of chocolate and 150 million dollars’ worth of cards and gifts in the name of Valentine’s Day according to the History Channel. For an unromantic (Scrooge-like) look at what does and doesn’t motivate our Valentine rituals, check out Time’s recent post on the matter. Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Put Your Money Where Your Pork Is

What do you do when your brand message teeters fictional? Put Your Money Where Your Pork Is – which is exactly what Chipotle did last month when they discovered one of their pork suppliers failed to meet their highly branded loyalty to animal welfare.

Walk the TalkChipotle

It’s easy to say you “serve only the best”, but how willing are you actually to walk the talk? Chipotle devotes pages of their website to FWI – Food With Integrity. (BOLD, to say the least!) Their written devotion to FWI is so in depth, in fact, one could characterize their marketing mantra as bordering on the obsessive.

When you repeatedly advertise a commitment to finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment, and farmers, you better be willing to back it up. Chipotle could have easily dealt with the supply chain fail on the QT but opted instead to address it publically – a definite walk the talk move on their part.

When a national chain opts for transparency over liquidity, it’s big (and refreshing) news. Chipotle pulled their pork carnitas from hundreds of their restaurants and posted a sign reading: Sorry, no carnitas. Due to supply constraints, we are currently unable to serve our responsibly raised pork. Trust us, we’re just as disappointed as you, and as soon as we get it back we’ll let the world know. Customer no carnitasloyalty and positive press prevailed pursuant.

Chain Reaction

Another point in Chipotle’s favor was the fact they refused to name the supplier who failed to meet their standards. In lieu of finger pointing, they chose to help bring the supplier’s “operations into compliance.” It was a class move by corporate standards, but not one void of potential other subsequent fallouts.

Whenever your customer takes a public eye hit, a trickle down chain reaction can occur. Such was the case for Niman Ranch, one of the most respected brands in the business and also Chipotle’s largest pork supplier. Was Niman negligent? Certainly not, but those, not in the know would certainly wonder.

Niman prudently followed Chipolte’s lead and spoke publically about it. What ensued was a highly publicized trail of what Niman was doing to help Chipotle get back up to speed in a real time demonstration of what a solid working relationship between merchant and supplier should look like.

NimanThe crux of this public relations issue is deeply attached to what makes meat natural – how animals are raised with respect to their environments if they’re free of growth hormones, antibiotics, etc. When you are committed to honoring sustainable practices, expediency is a non-issue – it takes more time to produce things naturally.

Unlike cows that bear one calf at a time over a 9 + month gestation period, it only takes 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days for a litter of pigs to be born. 114 days may not seem like a long time, but add to that the amount of time it takes to reach harvest maturity, and it becomes vividly clear how a supply chain gap can quickly sever fluid output.

Moral of the Story

Chipotle’s challenge was twofold: 1) tarnish brand perception by operating outside of message and 2) risk the loss of an ingratiated mass appeal. Offending Millennials, now the biggest consumer population in the U.S., who rank honesty as a top priority, and Chipotle almost just as high, wasn’t worth the risk. Anything but a celeritous and straightforward move could prove fatal for years to come.

The moral of this story is transparency trumps short term gain.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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