I’ve cooked my fair share of steaks over the past few decades. Some came out fantastic, while others were either too dry or lacked the proper flavor needed to truly stand out. Eventually my efforts grew more consistent as time passed, but I always wondered how my earlier attempts would have fared had I received some sage words of wisdom from some steak grilling professionals.
When I go to a steakhouse, it bums me out how noticeably different tastes, textures, and sears are on a steak compared to my paltry attempt at home.
LongHorn Steakhouse is an iconic restaurant chain that’s known for serving up juicy filets of beef by the hundreds on a daily basis. The chain began celebrating what they’re calling Grill Legends, grill cooks at the restaurant who have put in the hours and hit the incredible landmark of cooking up more than one million steaks.
Only four grill masters, out of thousands, have achieved this milestone.
I spoke to Grill Master Legends, and asked them to share with me the wisdom they gained through cooking steaks at such a high volume for a majority of their life. Here’s what they had to say:
Simi Tamaseu (Jacksonville Beach, FL)
Cardinal rules of steak:
“It’s important to have the right grill to cook on. Whether it’s a flat top grill or a char grill, make sure your cooking surface is clean, with a nice high temperature (around 500-550 degrees).”
Other tips include:
Make sure you’re picking the right size of steak for what you’re cooking. If you’re cooking a rare steak, choose a thicker cut of beef.
Always use fresh steaks, never frozen.
Mike Mort (Rome, GA)
Cardinal rules of steak:
“Always apply bold seasonings to the steak, coating both sides of the meat thoroughly because some of the seasoning will fall off the steak if using a char grill. I also like to put steaks in different zones on the grill to help me remember which ones are rare, medium rare, medium, medium well or well done. That way, we can always ensure a guest gets their steak just like they ordered.”
Other tips include:
Pick the right steak for the right temperature. (Well,thinner) (Rare, thicker)
Flat iron steak is a cheap cut of steak that cooks very well and is one of the most popular.
The perfect resting time for a steak is immediately, timed for about three minutes for it to travel from the grill to the table.
Choya Phillips (Madison, TN)
Cardinal rules of steak:
“You have to really respect the time and make sure every steak you cook is pretty much right. If you’re not taking your time, you can pretty much mess up any steak.”
Other tips include:
Ribeye steaks have the best marbling.
Take your time selecting the right cut of steak before cooking.
The perfect resting time is no more than 5 minutes after its off the grill.
Kurt Frazer (Covington, GA)
Cardinal rules of steak:
“When grilling a steak on a char grill, always make sure the grill is hot [and clean]. That way, you can get a nice sear on the steak.”
Other tips include:
There are no specific steaks that are great for beginners, you just have to jump in there and get familiar with the trend of the cook. You just keep doing it each day until you master it.
It’s a matter of what technique works for you.
Take the steak out of the fridge for about 30 minutes before going on the grill.
Student to the prolific Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, or otherwise known famously as simply Nobu, chef Takuya Umeda spent a quarter century honing his sushi-making techniques from the iconic Japanese chef at many different Nobu locations across the globe.
His newest restaurant Umeda, located in Hollywood, CA, is his first solo venture from his teacher’s shadow — complete with Nobu’s blessing and all.
A majority of Umeda’s menu is inspired by the Edo Period in Japan, where street food and bite-sized portions were common fare.
“I believe serving traditional dishes makes clear the identities that we are a Japanese restaurant,” he tells Foodbeast, as he bustles through kitchen.
“I discovered Edo tradition and techniques while cooking at a long-established restaurant in Sapporo City, and it inspired me to grow my knowledge by visiting, dining, and researching the practices of as many old Japanese restaurants as I could,” Umeda said.
Japan’s Edo period took place from 1603 to 1867 and is essentially the heart of Umeda’s menu. The chef adopts the use of ingredients and centuries-old cooking methods that were valued in Japan during that era.
“I find creativity and inspiration by holding firm to the foundation of Japan’s ancient cooking principles,” he says. These principles include honoring the five flavors of sweet, spicy, salty, bitter, and sour. Another key element is the five different ways to prepare Japanese food: raw, fried, boiled, grilled, and steamed.
Behind all the modern appliances in his Los Angeles kitchen, tucked away in the back of the house, lies a traditional Japanese grill he cooks skewers on over a bed of Binchō-tan charcoal.
Dishes like his grilled chicken skewers are a prime example of what’s fondly referred to as “samurai street food.”
Samurai Street food is essentially anything you can eat quickly on the go and served commonly through street vendors. Convenient bites like yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), a bowl of noodles, and sushi are all something a hungry samurai can speedily consume before returning to his post at a moment’s notice.
Chef Umeda’s menu harnesses the timeless fare and executes them with a blend of modern and traditional methods that he acquired from Nobu and other Japanese culinary masters throughout his lengthy career.
Layered with peppers, the chicken is pierced with kushi (bamboo skewers), dunked into a sweet terikayi-like marinade, and finished over a bed of white oak charcoal.
Quality and tradition go hand-in-hand with Chef Umeda and a prime example is his use of Inaniwa noodles. He sources these thin noodles from a single family-run business in the Akita region of Northeast Japan where a 350-year-old technique has been passed down to the eldest son of each generation.
While the chef reassures that there are many noodle manufacturers that yield a delicious product, he has yet to come across one that compares to his supplier — both in quality and respect for tradition.
His Inaniwa udon dish highlights these noodles as they are served in a savory broth accompanied by three plump chicken meatballs. A simple dish that packs centuries of technique, sensibilities, and flavor behind it.
“Sushi, tempura, noodles, grilled [meats], those are still popular at present time in Japan,” Umeda explains.
With a humble gait, always speaking with a smile, Chef Umeda was the only pupil to receive Nobu’s blessing to venture out, open his own restaurant, and incorporate the famed chef’s sushi techniques.
As I sit there watching him craft my meal, I’m mesmerized by the deft and efficient motions of his hands as he produces the sushi. It was as if his fingers were plucking notes from an invisible instrument whose music could only be heard by my taste buds.
The sheer speed and technique was something a camera could barely capture.
During Umeda’s time studying under Nobu, he learned two important things he still holds onto today.
The first was to put the customers first.
“Making customers happy above all else,” Umeda shares. “Their happiness and satisfaction is paramount.”
With that priority established, the second lesson draws from the chefs drive to constantly improve himself: Always looking for a better way to create, finesse, present each and every dish – because there is no best way.
“My greatest pleasure is making our guests genuinely smile after dining with us, which is something that Nobu has been able to do all of these years,” reflects Umeda. “Nobu taught me to find the joy in making guests happy in their daily lives through something as fundamentally simple as a good meal.”
As Umeda Restaurant begins its second year, Chef Umeda continues to build upon the teachings of the great Nobu through both his food, the exemplary way he hosts his patrons. Umeda’s spotlight on samurai street food, however, is what may set this sushi chef apart from his mentor.
The tofu master looks upon his final products. || Photos: Peter Pham
Seuk Ho Hong is a tofu master.
You may not give those pieces of soybean a second thought outside ordering them at your local Asian or vegan restaurant, but much care and dedication are devoted to creating a single block. That is what’s required of a master.
Sure it’s not one of the flashier food professions like a teppanyaki chef or a flavor guru, but the life of a humble tofu master is definitely one that keeps you busy. At least, that’s what Mr. Hong’s translator tells me.
Though we’re still not quite sure what the point is of a flavor guru when it comes to tofu.
The job of a tofu master is to ensure that tofu is up to the highest quality. Mr. Hong oversees all manufacturing processes and adjusts controls to maintain optimal manufacturing conditions.
A completed batch of tofu.
As with most factories, the goal is zero customer complaints, and zero injuries and accidents, in the plant. The tofu master is largely responsible for keeping things this way.
To become a tofu master, one must apprentice for a minimum of five years. Experience in several areas of production is required. A major chunk of your life must be dedicated to the plant-based protein. There’s no such thing as a part-time tofu master, after all.
Mr. Hong began his career in maintenance back in Korea and eventually moved to tofu manufacturing. The tofu master studied at the Pulmuone tofu plant in Korea before arriving at the one in Fullerton, CA.
Today he has more than 20 years of experience in tofu. This includes five years working with the protein in Korea and another 15 since moving to the United States.
Every afternoon Mr. Hong arrives at the plant to take over from the day shift tofu master. The two masters discuss the tofu conditions during the shift. This includes any noteworthy events, processes and any important changes to the product.
Mr. Hong works from 3pm through midnight. He checks on the soybean conditions, a highly important part of the job, up to six times during his shift. The soaking time depends on the quality of the soybean.
Soybeans ready to go through the grinder.
It’s sort of an art form if you think about it, finding the balance between temperature and hours in water. The soybeans could soak an hour on one day and up to 16 hours on another. It depends on the weather and temperature conditions, which vary day by day. Because the final quality of the tofu is essential, these conditions are strictly monitored by the tofu master.
After soaking, the soybeans are put through a grinder and mixed with water. The ground soy mixture is then heated. Similar to the cheese-making process, the soy milk is separated and solidified with a natural coagulant.
Mr. Hong works with an apprentice (one with years of experience in tofu), as well as a novice (one with little experience).
We wonder what makes one decide to take an apprenticeship in tofu? Does one choose such a life, or are they simply born into it?
The Pulmuone plant, under the Wildwood brand, is one of the largest tofu manufacturers in the world. The plant produces many different types of tofu and tofu products, all of which are overseen by Mr. Hong and the other tofu masters.
A perfect piece of tofu is based on three requirements: appearance, texture and flavor.
The tofu must have a clean surface, with a smooth look to it. The texture must be even. Though it’s made from soybeans, a prime piece of tofu should have as little bean flavor as possible. At least that’s what’s preferred in the US.
Tofu also comes in a variety of densities. The three most commonly sold are firm, soft and silken. Each is used for different dishes, depending on what is called for.
Uncut batch of tofu measured for overall consistency.
Because his job is so demanding, the tofu master does not have much time for leisure. His life is dedicated to his family and job.
MasterChef, is a FOX reality cooking show that pits home cooks from across the nation together in an all-out competition for the title of MasterChef and the prize of being able to write, and publish his or her very own cookbook. Oh yeah, they also throw in $250,000. Produced by Gordon Ramsay (who’s practically the face of FOX these days), the amateur chefs are judged every week by culinary icons Graham Elliot, Joe Bastianich and Ramsay himself. Each week, contestants are whittled down through pressure tests that challenge their skill and creativity in the kitchen until one remains as the MasterChef.
I got to chat with season 3 finalist Mairym Monti Carlo, who made it into the top five before being eliminated from the competition. Monti beat out of the tens of thousands who auditioned and 31 out of the 36 chosen to compete on air. This single mom and radio personality was a fan-favorite and underdog for the entire season, exceeding everyone’s expectations and making it to the top five this last season.
Can you describe the events that led up to the moment you walked into the warehouse in front of the judges during the audition show? What pushed you to get onto the show?
You know, I’ve never even seen MasterChef before I tried out. I’ve never even heard of the show, I’ve never seen the show. I was living in L.A. in a little tiny studio apartment 300-square-feet with my son, Danger, and my blind diabetic dog, Chewy Chew Chew Super Dog.
I was broke. I was living on a $10 dollar a day food budget. I’ve been unemployed at that time for two years. I couldn’t find a gig in radio to save my life. My unemployment was running out. So when I found out about an audition for MasterChef, I had no idea there was even a prize involved or anything, but one of my good friends was like,
Hey, you’ve been so stressed out about every thing, you never leave your house, why don’t you go to this audition have a good time, I’ll watch the kid. If anything you’ll have some funny stories to tell (Cause I also do comedy) on stage.
So I just went and I made an apple pie. I’ve been making this apple pie; it’s a very special recipe to me because when I filed for divorce it was really just an ugly time in my life. I had just left my job to be a stay at home mom, and that gave me all the time I needed to find out that my husband was cheating on me.
When you file for divorce, you put together all of your finances, and that’s when I found out that he gambled most of my savings. Suddenly I find myself in the craziest situation: I’m a single mom, mid-divorce, no money. It was very frustrating for me so I started to cook because I had to.
I was on this food stamp program. They give you these certificates to take to farmer’s markets. So that’s what I would do with my kiddo, we would go to farmer’s markets in Washington and Seattle and I’d get these big bags of beautiful Washington Apples and I’d chop one up for him in the kitchen when he was in his little high-chair. I would chop apples, sometimes for hours. It was my therapy. I started making apple pies. I must have made like thirty apple pies in a month. It was disgusting. My friends were so sick of my effing apple pies.
It really felt good for me to be able to put all my work into this one thing and have it be beautiful, unlike my marriage where I put all my work into it and it totally fell apart.
Cooking was like this beautiful blessing for me. I was so broke at the time, I didn’t even have anything to carry my pies in. So I dumped out a diaper box and I put three of the pies that I made into this diaper box and then I strung my dog’s leash around the handles of the box to make it like a purse. I was so proud of myself.
I walked up to this audition and there was like 1,000 people in line, and they all had the fanciest things. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so ghetto-fabulous right now.” When were finally got in front of producers, they had us line up like nine people in front of the producers and I realized how ridiculous it was for me to be there. The producers where asking (the people lined up with me) crazy things like “What were the five mother sauces” and I had like no idea about any of it.
When they got to me I was like, I had no idea what the five mother sauces where. I told them I don’t think I should be here, but I ended up being the only person that they chose out of that group to continue on. The process took a few months, but finally they let me know that I made it into the top 100. I was supposed to go into this hotel to start this competition.
I had no one watch my son my little sister had just moved to L.A., she was going to be staying with me for a few weeks and I asked her if she would watch him. So she arrived on a Tuesday night and then that Wednesday morning she drove me to be sequestered. It was crazy.
I’d never been apart from my son before, which was part of the reason I couldn’t stop crying. Those first episodes, I was just out of my mind. I’ve never been apart from him, not even for an hour. That was really insane for me to be away from him. I knew so once I got there that I had to do my best because it was going to be one of the only ways to get us out of the situation that we were in which was just abysmal.
I had no money, I didn’t have a job. So I knew that this was going to be my one shot to try to make something happen.
And that’s what it was like for me walking into that warehouse with Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Ellioit.
What kind of emotions go through your mind when you’re standing in front of figures like Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich?
It was so surreal. It was so crazy surreal. It felt like I was in a dream. I really felt like it wasn’t real. There was like a ringing in my ears, I don’t remember anything that I said.I honestly don’t remember anything that I said so when I watched the beginning of the first episode when they showed my clip for the first time it was like watching something that had never happened in front of my face even though it totally happened. The whole thing to me right now, it’s still so surreal.
Being on MasterChef was it all anxiety and stress like the show portrays it? Were there times when you can just unwind with the other contestants and just relax and have fun?
It is the most intense thing I’ve done in my life, and I made a baby.
When you’re not on set, they’re taking us to the hotel. A lot of the contestants would hang out in the hotel lobby and get something to eat or drink and relax. But I would go straight to my room. Because one, I was still on a mega-budget. I wanted to save as much money as possible. I didn’t come there to spend money. Two, I wanted to study. So they have a library that we could access and that’s how I would fall asleep every night. I would just stay in this library and study, study, study.
But for me it was not all fun and games. Though there was some beautiful moments on the show that were thoroughly enjoyable and one of the highlights of the last year for me.
As a single mother, was it difficult to leave your son, Danger, behind to do the show? How often were you able to keep in contact with him?
I got to speak to him one time. I only spoke to him for 30 seconds to a minute. It was really tough. We were sequestered. We were not allowed to call family we didn’t have our phones or our computers or anything like that.
What’s been going on with you since the season 3 of MasterChef ended?
I’m super excited to be working on my cookbook; it’s going to be part autobiography, part recipes that got me through the crazy times. Definitely my apple recipe will be there. I’m going to put my recipe for Puerto Rican Shepherd’s Pie in it because it’s one of the first things that I remember my grandmother cooking for me, my grandmother raised me when I was a little girl, and it’s also the recipe that got me in the top 36.
I’m definitely going to put my Crab Scotch Egg in it because that’s the recipe that made me realize that I just might have it in me to be a MasterChef.
Do you remember the first thing that you ever cooked on your own?
The first thing that I remember cooking on my own was pancakes. I was a latchkey kid, I’m a twin, I have a twin brother named Joel. When we were seven-years-old, my mother had three jobs to try to make ends meet so she was never home. We would come home from school and I would make us pancakes.
We would sit in front of the TV and eat pancakes soaked in half a bottle of syrup and watch cartoons. We would watch Scooby-Doo and Donahue. And that’s how I learned to speak English, watching Scooby-Doo and Donahue.
If you could build your perfect pizza, what would be on it and why?
I love a very simple pizza. I don’t like pizza with a ton of stuff on it. It would probably be a Margarita Pizza. It would be a very thin crust, beautiful mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and hopefully some fresh heirloom tomatoes.
I would keep it very simple. I love simple food. I don’t like things that are complicated. I think it’s very easy to complicate things and it’s a lot more difficult to keep things simple.
Can you tell me a little bit about your radio show?
It’s a morning show in Phoenix on a station call My103.9. I have people from all around the world that listen in that are friends of the MasterChef show. I’ve had people call in from Libya, Australia, Toronto and Pakistan, it’s crazy.
I do it Mondays-Fridays 6 a.m. – noon Pacific Standard Time. It’s not your like your typical radio show. I don’t like to gossip, or kick celebrities when they’re down, or do anything crazy like that. I’m a mom more than anything else, so what I focus on is what I call “Mommy Radio” and it’s something like “Mommy and Me” content so if your kid’s in the car it’ll be a good experience.
I like to start off my mornings with a good news story, I think that there’s so many bad news stories in the world. People just love to talk about bad news. But I hate it. So every morning I start off with a good news story.
(Recently) I talked about this guy in Winnipeg, he’s a bus driver and there was this young man on his bus that was homeless and he didn’t have any shoes on. So when he dropped him off, this guy who’s homeless, steps out into the streets of Winnipeg in 41-degree weather with no shoes. And the bus driver, sort of driving away, stops the bus, pulls the bus over, got out of the bus, walks over to the homeless man and gave him his shoes off his feet and walks back on the bus in his socks.
It was a beautiful, awesome, selfless act of kindness and you have no idea how it’s going to save somebody’s life. When you do these little acts of kindness, you never know how they multiply. It’s like dropping a pebble into a lake and watching the circles get bigger and bigger and bigger.
That’s how I like to start my mornings off.
Is there anything you’d like to say to all the FoodBeasts out there?
Keep cooking. Cooking is a beautiful thing. It brings people together, across generations and across cultures. It’s one of the most beautiful, simple things to say I love you to someone. Keep cooking.
You can continue watching Monti cook in her new upcoming YouTube series Lunch Lady. It’s aimed for parents who are crunched for time and on a budget that sophisticated enough that you can pack for your kids’ to take to school but also take yourself to work.
And if any of you FoodBeasts think you have what it takes to be the next MasterChef, FOX is holding auditions starting early October through early November for season 4.