Top chef explains his love of 'Flintstones' steaks and Balinese salt. Read on to discover his steak cooking tips.
Andrew Zarzosa, chef de cuisine at Hunters Room & Grill.
You’re from the States. Like me. How unusual. Yeah, there really aren’t too many Americans here. But we all kind of know each other. It’s good to know there’s another American in town.
Have you adjusted all right? I’ve worked in a lot of different areas and also lived in a lot of different countries, so for me, it’s not really difficult adjusting to different cultures. It’s more of a challenge for my wife and two children. She’s from the Bahamas, so she’s used to the small island life. But she’s doing all right.
Since you know everything about steak, could you tell us what the secret to a good steak is? Well, I don’t know everything. You still learn things every day. Everyone has a different preference for how they want their steak. For me personally, I prefer just some sea salt and freshly ground pepper, sear it in a pan, throw in a little butter. Some people like to marinate it or do different things to it, but if it’s a good piece of meat, it will speak for itself.
Speaking of salt, isn’t offering 12 varieties overkill? People may think salt is salt, but they all have their own distinct characteristics and flavour profiles. I just love salts. We have salt from the Himalayan Mountains that can date as far back as the dinosaur era; it’s literally million-year-old salt. We have salt from Bali that’s smoked in coconut shells. We have Cyprus sea salt, which is black, and red volcano salt from Hawaii. The idea is that you can sprinkle a little of each salt into each bite of steak you eat, and you can taste the difference.
What’s the biggest faux pas when cooking steak? It’s a misconception and lack of education on meat itself, but people tend to be scared of the blood. The fact of the matter is: there is no blood. When you cook a steak, the juice that you see is actually water. The colouring from the muscle tissue is so deep and so dark red that when it leaks out, the water leaks red, so people often think it’s blood. As a result, some people tend to overcook their meat, but then it’s not as juicy. It’s not flavourful anymore, because it’s turned grey and dark.
Wow. I actually didn’t realise that about steak myself. I thought it was blood. The fact is, when animals are slaughtered, they’re drained of all their blood. They have to be, especially in this country, where they have to be drained of all their blood to be certified halal.
What’s your favourite cut of steak? My personal favourite cut is the ribeye, just for the fact that it’s got a lot of character, a lot of fat and it’s a well-marbelled piece of meat. You can have it thick on the bone, like Fred Flinstone: a yabba dabba du steak. It just satisfies you in that way.
You also offer Kobe steak. Given the proliferation of Kobe meat, has the quality of Kobe been watered down? It has been watered down in a sense, because what it originated from was the Kobe region in Japan, where they exclusively raised these cattle. It became immensely popular, and the situation became like champagne, you know – if it’s not from champagne isn’t it sparkling wine? That sort of thing. People were bringing cattle from the region and crossbreeding it with Angus and calling it American Kobe. If you want 100 per cent Kobe, you have to get it from Japan. We have master Kobe, which is from Australia. The cattle was brought from Japan and bred with Australian cattle. It has a pretty high marble score. It’s not what you’d find in Japan, but it’s pretty close.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu? If I had to choose, I’d say the braised short ribs, because I love braised food. Anything that’s braised is just meltingly tender. You don’t need a knife, you can just fork it and it falls apart. You’re reminded of when your mother made a big pot roast as a kid, when you were feeling sick. It’s a comfort food for me, which is why I put it on the menu.
Hunters Room & Grill, The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi (04 399 4141). Open 6pm-11pm daily. All major credit cards accepted.
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Jason Zarzosa Apr 26, 2009 12:43 am
Andrew does a fantastic job of putting his soul into his food, I know from experience that when you take that first bite of his food you can tell that he is passionate about his food. it's not snobby or stuck up, it's genuine and tasteful.