When F&W asked star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to do a column on steak, I was surprised that he suggested beef tenderloin. I have it on good authority that his favorite steak is a porterhouse, grilled simply with salt and pepper, but the three recipes he gave me used a veritable spice rack of ingredients, from hot powdered mustard to floral kaffir lime leaves. So why the tenderloin, and why did it need so many embellishments?
Vongerichten grabbed my notepad and drew me a porterhouse, making a T for the bone that runs through the cut. “You see, the porterhouse has a lot of bone,” he said, lovingly running the pen over the T again and again.
“Yes, I see,” I said hesitantly, not seeing his point at all.
“The bone brings the flavor,” he continued. “Beef tenderloin doesn’t have any bones. So you have to bring the flavor to the meat.”
Last December, the chef opened J&G Steakhouse in Scottsdale, Arizona, and he has more steak houses planned for Las Vegas and Mexico City. Tenderloin is the best-selling steak across Vongerichten’s restaurant empire; while it is the most tender cut of beef, it lacks flavor. “Luckily,” he says, “the tenderloin is the friendliest cut. It goes with anything.”
As a young line cook at Paul Bocuse, Vongerichten once topped tenderloins with truffles and foie gras for Tournedos Rossini. Today he cooks them sous vide, a method that renders the cut even more buttery-soft. Sealed in a plastic bag with orange zest and kaffir lime leaves and simmered in a water bath for 45 minutes, the meat emerges evenly pink and intensely aromatic.
For a fast dish, Vongerichten threads thin slices of the steak on skewers, Indonesian satay–style, then glazes them with a sweet-salty puree of red miso, soy sauce and garlic chips.
For another recipe, inspired by his mother’s goulash (a Hungarian beef stew), the chef rubs paprika over the steaks and roasts them. “That caramelized, smoky flavor with the beef,” he says. “There’s no better combination.”