Chefs who gathered at the Certified Angus Beef brand Education and Culinary Center in Wayne County this spring appeared deep into play by the end of a two-day summit that blended education, training and networking. As the sound of knives on sharpening steels mixed with laughter, jokes and digs lobbed between colleagues, a serious yet spirited vibe set in as the group paired off for some menu ideation, or brainstorming, using Certified Angus Beef (CAB) brand products. The teams were presented with unique and underutilized muscular cuts like sirloin and chuck flap, coulotte (cut from the cap of the sirloin), tri-tip and a bottom round flat. The challenge was to test their creativity by creating restaurant-quality appetizers and main courses, ones that would stand out among those of their equally skilled competitors.
Arriving from all corners of the country, the chefs were in Ohio for an intensive look at the history of this premier beef brand that included a visit to an Angus farm, a chance to talk with farmers and hands-on lessons in butchery skills.
“The point here is to educate, not advocate, for the brand,” said Mary McMillen, director of consumer marketing for CAB, the marketing and education arm of the American Angus Association. “Everything we do here is on behalf of the 25,000 farmers and ranchers in the United States who raise Angus-based cattle,” a breed with a rich Scottish heritage that has long been regarded for its high quality traits that translate into great cuts of beef.
Inviting the chefs into the 7,000-square-foot center, home to a state-of-the-art kitchen, meat-cutting area, classrooms and meeting space, offers them a unique experience. They work alongside creative, like-minded professionals who inspire one another, swap techniques and bring the nuances of their regional cuisine. “We want them to be successful using the brand and share their knowledge with other chefs,” McMillen said.
The Certified Angus Beef Culinary Center serves as the world headquarters for the brand and, while Wooster, Ohio might seem like a surprising location, this is where the CAB program took root in 1978 when the public began to demand better quality in their beef. A group of producers met around a farmhouse table and discussed a bad steak they had that was advertised as Angus. Offended that it portrayed badly the type of beef they were dedicated to raising well, they joined together to develop the first grading system for a specific brand. It includes 10 science-based, quality standard specifications that ensure the consistency and reliability of the product, which is always a cut above USDA prime, choice and select grades.
“Graders look for a lot of features on the animal carcass including an inch or less of back fat, the size of the rib eye and, most importantly, the marbling because that’s what’s going to impact the flavor and tenderness,” McMillen said. Since their inception, the standards have not waivered and the flavor and texture are consistent whether served by CAB restaurant partner or purchased through select Ohio retailers such as Meijer, Buehler’s, Acme or Giant Eagle stores.
Today there are 25,000 farmers and ranchers in the United States raising Angus-based cattle. Last year, 330 Ohio producers registered 3,500 cattle where only one out of four will qualify for the CAB brand program. McMillen says it’s important for the chefs and consumers to recognize the distinction and quality CAB branding represents. “It’s the most important story we have to tell,” she said, “one that ultimately tells itself when it’s on the plate.”
The energy and enthusiasm in the CAB brand Education and Culinary Center never faded throughout the competition even as the chefs plated and displayed their dishes for tasting, judging or close scrutiny and admiration by their peers. In the end, 16 dishes, from a traditional Braciole to an eclectic and winning appetizer of Chicken Fried Flap Medallions with Potato Frites and Linguisa Bourbon Pan Gravy, lined the judges’ table, each entry as enticing as the next and all highlighting the Certified Angus Beef brand. “The product alone is high quality,” McMillen said. “All it really requires is the chef’s artistic skills.”
Sharing A Meal
Ken Sherepita is the executive chef at Pickwick and Frolic, a 280-seat restaurant and entertainment complex located in Cleveland’s lively East 4th Street restaurant district. The only Ohio chef at the CAB chef summit, he returned to his kitchen freshly inspired. “We now have tri tip on the menu, something rarely served in Ohio, but in California it’s great street food,” he said. “We’re also working on making our own house-cured beef bacon.”
The chef said working with his contemporaries from around the country is ideal for learning how many different techniques and preparations can be used on a specific cut.
“There are no secrets in a chef’s world,” he said “It makes sense to share information.”
“We got the full story on CAB at the summit,” he said. “It’s clear that there are no shortcuts to producing beef of this quality. It’s something our guests perceive, too.”
Here is the recipe for Chef Ken Sherepita’s award-winning steak.