The Devil’s in the Details
Photographs by Erik Kabik
The fetishization of sexy looking plates of food has become so ingrained in pop culture that the term “food porn” is now established in mainstream consciousness. We’ve all seen more than one television show dedicated to this nasty art. So now we can begin to dissect this new form of culinary eroticism and talk about its many saucy sub-genres.
Those with a Beef Wellington fetish have already discovered their Eden: Hell’s Kitchen, the Gordon Ramsay restaurant at Caesars Palace (based on the television show of the same name). Here, lovers of the English pastry encrusted fillet dish get to see plate after sultry plate – beef, mushroom duxelle, mustard, and Parma ham participate in an orgy of deliciousness, all under the safe shroud of golden puff pastry – as they leave the kitchen and strut their way across the dining room.
These “beefies” – think Bronies but for Beef Wellington - can post videos on Snapchat of their Wellington as it sensually traverses the restaurant floor. They can put playful Instagram filters on pictures of the coated beef and showcase their best Wellington on their stories in hopes of getting, you know, at least 25 likes or views. They can keep it 100 and tweet about how lit the Wellington is. And, now get this, they can also actually eat the Beef Wellington! Do what you will, you freaky beefies.
You see, the Beef Wellington wouldn’t be such a social media star if it didn’t back it up with taste. But judging by how often the item is ordered, there is a reason this Beef Wellington is trending.
Says Jennifer Murphy, executive chef at the randy restaurant, “We sell over 400 Beef Wellingtons a day and about the same amount of sticky toffee pudding. The volume that we do here, and how we’re able to produce it in a small space, it’s just crazy.”
Sticky toffee pudding, you naughty, naughty dessert, we’ll get to you later. Until then, wait in the corner and think about how bad you’ve been.
Consider that number one more time: 400 Beef Wellingtons a day. This is not pizza or hamburgers or tacos we’re talking about. This is a dish that saw its first hey-day in the mid-1900s, fell out of style and is currently usually reserved for upscale French restaurants (at least the French version is, filet de bœuf en croute). But here, on one of the most famous food streets in the world, where eaters can get anything they want, Beef Wellington is staking its claim as the must have dish of the year, both for the Wellington addicts and casual diners alike.
To further exemplify this point, Hell’s Kitchen serves 1,200 people a day –itself a massive number – meaning one-third of all diners are ordering Beef fricken Wellington. It’s the Fifty Shades of Grey of beef dishes. You don’t know who is eating all of them, but you know they’re getting sold. By 2020, expect to see Beef Wellington: Gordon’s Way in movie theaters across the country.
The volume of Beef Wellingtons sold – and to be clear, this is an exemplary version of the dish – is just one of the many impressive feats Murphy and her team are pulling off. The restaurant, which is a standalone building in front of the iconic resort on Las Vegas Boulevard and used to house Serendipity 3, opened in January. Within 10 days, the eatery had already acquired 12,000 reservations. It is possibly the busiest restaurant in the world right now.
And it had to be Jennifer Murphy – the chef that many call “Murph” – to run the day to day operations here. She knew it was the chef’s life for her at the age of five, when, as she recalls, “I used to watch Yan Can Cook with my mom. That was my jam. We watched that and Great Chefs of the World every day after school. I had my heart set on it.” She finishes her thought with this sentiment, “This is all I know how to do. It’s all I’ve ever done.”
The chef, now in her mid-30s, started her career as an inhouse cook at The Playboy Mansion. Even though Hugh Hefner wasn’t teaching her how to properly chiffonade vegetables or sous vide a chicken, it was a forbearer of things to come for Murph, who, since her arrival in Las Vegas 12 years ago, has been cooking under the banner of one celebrity or another.
Joel Robuchon, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Michael Mina, or Chef Joho – Murphy was the woman behind the guy at all these places. She helped the biggest chefs in Las Vegas, and thereby the world, execute their visions at their Sin City outposts.
After that list of names, there was only one place to go. Recalls Murphy, the first person hired at Hell’s Kitchen, “I think the stars just lined up and I was looking for an opportunity because I had worked underneath all these big chefs and kind of had been the person behind the scenes, making things happen, and not necessarily, I don’t want to say not getting the credit, but just to be working underneath somebody and to actually have somebody that I’m 100% responsible for, this was it for me.”
If it was a larger spotlight Murphy was looking for, she failed miserably. No chef is more famous than Gordon Ramsay. He will always be the star of the show, even if he’s just in town every once in a while. Underneath him is corporate chef, and season ten winner of the television show Hell’s Kitchen, Christina Wilson, who also gets a bit of that star shine.
But it is Murphy checking every plate that goes out of the kitchen. Literally. She states, “We serve 1200 guests a day. That means we have over 3000 plates leaving the pass. I inspect every single one. I have a very strict rule. Nobody touches my tickets and nobody touches my plates until I send it out. That’s the discipline I learned working with chefs like Robuchon and Gordon Ramsay. That’s what the expectation is. Everything gets inspected.”
So, what are the dishes Murph keeps her eyes on? How do you develop a restaurant menu based on a hit television show that is not a restaurant? This sounds like the worst Christopher Nolan movie ever, but the process for foodies is quite interesting.
Murphy explains, “I can’t think of any other restaurants that have the same type of parameters when it comes to making a menu. When it came down to making the recipes, Gordon has his signature dishes. Obviously Beef Wellington is our star dish here that everybody wants. That’s from the television show. There’s a handful of other dishes that are from the show. Scallops, risotto, lamb, and sticky toffee pudding. Those seem to be our best sellers here.”
The scallops are pan seared and sit on top of an English pea puree with braised bacon lardons. Pickled fennel is a fine addition to the plate.
The risotto is not to be missed. A butter poached lobster tail is enveloped by luscious saffron risotto and studded with tomato confit. This is a luxury plate made to share, but difficult to do so because it tastes so damn good.
The lamb here is a properly roasted rack, but the real stars on the plate are the vegetable accompaniments. Vadouvan carrots feature the Indo-French spice mix blending seamlessly with the natural sweetness of the carrots while the Bloomsdale spinach is plenty garlicky, the way it should be.
Then there’s that baddie that needs to be disciplined, the sticky toffee pudding. Part of the dish’s misbehavior is the misleading name. What we consider pudding, this ain’t. It’s a rich cake, full of brown sugar, Medjool dates, and cocoa powder, which is topped with a decadent toffee sauce. Topped is the wrong word, actually, as the sauce builds a sticky moat all around the cake. It’s like a sticky toffee floating island. Those with a sweet tooth will not be disappointed as they submit to the power of the pudding.
One other dish of note is the crispy skin salmon, which shows the collaborative nature of putting together a menu for a restaurant based on a television show with a superstar chef. Murph explains, “I don’t think a lot of chefs get to do research like I got do research for this particular restaurant. I went on YouTube and searched Gordon’s classic recipes. Even though they weren’t necessarily from the show, I would pull his videos and make the other dishes he’s well-known for.”
That is the basis for the fish dish, which features a flaky salmon filet that is pull-apart easy along with its advertised crispy skin. The buttery fish is coated with a Citrus Beurre Blanc and sits atop beluga lentils, named after their likeness to the caviar of the same name. A fennel citrus salad cuts the richness of the of French-style fish.
Good on you if you made it all the way through. That’s more than we can say about most porn experiences.