NICK KOTZEA VS.
Big, Fat, Juicy Steaks E
very so often we encounter poignant reminders of the basic duty of goodwill and decency that we owe one another. We recognize all that is tragic and inequitable in this world, issues that fester as a consequence of societal inaction. It compels us to shed our petty differences, open our minds and extend compassion to those around us.
One of those moments is upon us. Amidst the transition into the outdoor grilling season, the unmistakable aroma of burning animal flesh serves as a powerful reminder that condiment lovers everywhere, myself included, are shackled by asinine notions of what sauces may or may not be applied to steaks. It is an oppressive state of hostility and judgment perpetuated by beef fanatics and culinary elitists. It must be stopped. These high and mighty goofs will have you believe that condiments are designed exclusively for crude, fried fare and to compensate for deficiencies in principal food items. They arrogantly condemn dissenters, revering the steak as a godsend to be worshipped in its pure form. To these radicals, steak sauce on tenderloin is an unholy union. They look down their noses, proclaiming sacrilege and casting malicious labels such as “unrefined palette.” Enough. Kotzea It is high time for the steak – and any other food unwarrantedly deemed “above” the application of condiments – to be stripped of contrived sanctity. Condiments can and do serve to enhance foods that might otherwise be superb standing alone. Those who endorse this proposition should be free from persecution. Sometime ago, I had a lively exchange with a friend at a steakhouse. He scolded me for applying steak sauce to a tender, juicy cut of meat. By itself, the steak was satisfactory. It was both prepared and seasoned well; I simply opted for a little extra kick from the A-1 bottle. All I wanted was some tangy zip, but you’d think I had spray painted across a Monet. Myy friend adamantly contended that the use of steak sauce was an insult, not only to the chef, but also to the beef producer. He went further to suggest that raising cattle and preparing steak both constitute “art forms.” Granting much due respect to the hardworking beef producers of this world, as well as the innovative
chefs who make dining out an enjoyable experience, I categorically rejected my friend’s ridiculous assertion. For starters, there are few culinary processes as straight forward as grilling a steak. That’s why guys can do it. Like Neanderthals, we are capable of flipping large pieces of meat over loosely contained flames. Our aptitude tends to diminish the closer we get to a kitchen and an actual recipe. Probably the whole “following directions” part of it. I know and appreciate the fact that chefs (think table cloths, not Denny’s) and food aficionados strive to engineer the perfect mari-
I simply find that ketchup and turkey belong together like straitjackets and pageant moms. nades and spice combinations. I realize they frame eating as an experience rather than a function. They take pride in their work, and they feel that what they present on a plate is not some tired recipe for mere sustenance, but rather a thoughtful and complete culinary expression. I get it. And honestly, my first few bites are always “as is.” However, on occasion, I pursue a variation. Usually there’s nothing wrong with the foundation or the architecture; I’m merely adding a little extra flair reflective of my personal preferences. The central question is, of course, whether that flair is truly a showing of disrespect to the cook. In my opinion, the answer is no. There are undoubtedly some who sharply disagree with the way I’ve framed this issue, i.e., some would argue that the use of condiments destroys calculated flavor combinations and reflects one’s close-mindedness toward new food experiences. I find this argument unpersuasive. It boils down to the prerogative of the patron. A $30 New York strip is no more protected than a Big Mac. I’m not suggesting that the first words out of my mouth at a private dinner party are
Published on Jan 19, 2010