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You may not know the name Pat LaFrieda (yet!), but many New Yorkers have already sunk their teeth into products from the acclaimed Brooklyn-born meat wholesaler. From Shake Shack to Minetta Tavern, Union Square Cafe to The Spotted Pig, hundreds of top restaurants in NYC and across the country count on LaFrieda Meats for the best quality cuts and blends. And it’s been that way for nearly 100 years.
On April 9th, Food Network will debut Meat Men, a reality show that chronicles the daily grind of Pat, his father Pat Sr., and cousin Mark Pastore at their family owned and operated 35,000-sq. foot New Jersey factory. The series spotlights all the meaty magic and daily drama that comes with running the business, like creating custom burger blends for celebrity chefs, rushing emergency orders to restaurants across Manhattan, and the perils of long, vigorous days in the meat locker.
I recently spoke with the notorious master of meat to get the scoop on his new TV show and iPad app, where he goes when he’s craving steak or a juicy burger, and more.
Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors has been around for three generations and nearly 100 years. Was being in the family business always what you wanted to do?
I grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and my dad wanted me to get out of the meat industry and not follow in his footsteps—ya know, working overnight in a 35-degree refrigerator. He sent me to private schools and college with the idea that I’d go off and do something different. After school, I became a stock broker and absolutely hated it, so it completely backfired. I rejoined my dad in the mid-90’s and asked if I could help grow the business, because I had worked with him since I was a kid on weekends and days off from school. Being part of the family business was something that I always loved and felt comfortable with.
What’s the best part of what you do everyday?
Like most people, the end of the day! But my favorite part of the job is fulfilling orders. Restaurants and chefs really depend on us to get them quality products when they need it—especially in Manhattan, where space is limited and they need a daily delivery, we try to make it easier for them. And when the last truck leaves and they all go out on time—that’s my favorite part of the day. Because we’re helping out their business.
Since summer barbecue weather is coming up, what’s your secret to perfectly grilling meat?
Cook your meat on a really hot grill. I always see people putting meat on a grill that’s not hot enough. Friends always wonder why I cook so fast. Well, the first thing I do is turn on the grill, and then I start prepping my food while it heats up to 450 degrees. Grilling should be quick and all the flavors intact. When you cook meat on a warm grill and close the cover, you’re almost steaming it.
You just launched the Big App for Meat on iPad. What made you want to create an app?
Over the years we faced a lot of questions about meat—about types of meat and where it comes from, things that were always so natural to us. Even veteran chefs would ask us questions. So, we wanted to make those answers available for everyone since people seem to want to know. We thought of doing it in a book, but knew people could be more interactive with the app technology. There are hours of video and hundreds of photographs to show you what types of meat are available and where on the animal those parts come from. (find out more about the app here)
Do you have a favorite cut of beef?
My favorite cut of beef is outside skirt steak, but my favorite kind of meat is lamb. There’s nothing like lamb leg and roasted lamb loin…
Your new show, Meat Men, debuts on Food Network next week. Congratulations! What can viewers expect to see when they tune in?
Yes, it’s exciting! The show is about our family business, but more what goes on behind the scenes as meat purveyors. When sixty to seventy percent of restaurants are meat-driven, all that meat has got to come from somewhere. The show is about where it comes from and how we portion and produce meat for restaurants and deliver it daily. The characters are hysterical—my cousin, my dad and I—as well as the way we interact and run our company. And you get to see a lot of chefs, which is really cool! Chefs that cook with our products and truly benefit from using our meats.
Was it strange having the cameras follow you around all the time?
It’s not that we didn’t get used to it, but it sometimes got old quickly. When you are suddenly followed around by cameras, you can’t do things you would normally do. Filming a reality show can be very difficult when you are really just trying to run a business. Sometimes you have to just turn off the audio, sit in a corner, shout out some profanity and then get back out there.
I understand the very talented chef Michael White will be on the premiere episode. How was working with him?
Yes, when Michael opened Ai Fiori on 5th Avenue, he really wanted a signature burger that would stand out on the lunch menu. We worked with him to create a blend of meat from scratch, and with just a few tweaks here and there, it was exactly what he wanted. It’s really cool to follow the chefs and see the ideas and desires of what they think is a great burger, and then execute it and get it to their restaurant.
If you could create a custom burger blend for any chef or celebrity, who would it be?
I’d love to make a signature burger for Bobby Flay. I’ve never worked with Bobby. I’m a big fan.
If you’re craving a great steak in New York City, where will you go?
A new restaurant that just opened called Perla. The chef, Michael Toscano, used to work at Babbo and Eataly’s Manzo. I had a rib steak there a couple days ago—and, I swear—it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. It’s a 109 rib steak aged for 56 days, has porcini powder dusted over the top, it’s just perfect.
How about your favorite burger?
I love Shake Shack, of course, but I really like my burgers seared on the outside and kind of rare on the inside. I go to The Spotted Pig for that—they use a grill as opposed to a flat top, and I love that grilled flavor. And the blue cheese over the top doesn’t hurt!
Any other must-try meat dishes you’ve had recently?
The goat’s neck at Kin Shop is a must. Everyone has to try this dish! Chef Harold Dieterle braises it and cooks it in a yogurt sauce. I’ve eaten it several times, it’s amazing—cooked perfectly and to die for.
Eataly is my go-to for LaFrieda Meats, but how else can people in the area buy some to prepare at home?
We’re very exclusive with retailers, but the easiest way to get our grinds and burgers is through Fresh Direct. However, Eataly is great because it’s a beautiful store, they have such an amazing staff and a huge selection. The butchers there will portion the meat for you anyway you like. It’s hard to find something like that in New York City.
To keep up with the latest from the meat maven himself, you can follow Pat on Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to tune into Food Network on April 9th at 11pm for the premiere of Meat Men. Thanks Pat and best of luck with the show!
Image courtesy of LaFrieda Meats
“It’s all about the meat on meat, baby!” exclaimed Michael Symon as he proudly displayed his second People’s Choice Award trophy during last year’s 2011 SOBEWFF Burger Bash. A year later, his meat mixing mastery has paid off again.
“This year, we ground the bacon right into the burger meat,” said Symon of his winning Porky Burger — a bacon-speckled ground pork patty topped with pulled pork and slaw, with crispy pork cracklings on the side.
One of the most popular events of the Festival, the annual “best between the bun” throwdown hosted by Rachael Ray drew dozens of top name chefs and Food Network personalities from around the country to cook up their best burger creations. Thousands of attendees gathered into a massive Miami beachfront tent to nosh on a whopping amount of burgers and sides, sip Amstel Light and vote for their favorite patty.
There were 32 different burgers in all — more than enough to satisfy even the hungriest carnivores. Josh Capon (Burger & Barrel) put a sweet and savory spin on his with onion and bacon jam, shaved pickles and secret sauce, while Angelo Sosa (Social Eatz) spiced things up with his Korean-inspired bulgogi burger. The Meatball Shop guys impressed during their Bash debut with a chili-flavored cheddar and caramelized onion version, and the Amstel Light-sponsored Fatty ‘Cue patty from Zak Pelaccio was also a favorite—succulent lamb meat with salted chilis and rye barrel aged worcestershire.
Surprisingly, beloved burger joint Shake Shack switched up their classic Shack Burger for an American and applewood smoked bacon-topped beef patty slathered with pepper relish and Shack Sauce. Not surprisingly, Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray drew the biggest fan mobs.
Event judges Gail Simmons, Emeril Lagasse, Marc Murphy and Susie Fogelson picked the crispy shallot, bacon and swiss burger from Whisk for the Golden Grill Award, and Guy Fieri snagged the Heinz Best Dressed Award for topping his bacon patty with thick tomato, onion rings and oozy “donkey sauce.” Many congrats to all the participants — this year’s Bash was juicier than ever!
After maxing out my appetite at Meatball Madness, my stomach was pushed to capacity again at Friday’s Blue Moon Burger Bash, presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats. One of NYCWFF’s most popular events, this sold out meat extravaganza drew more than 20 A-list chefs and food personalities, who served up their “best between a bun” in the ultimate burger throwdown.
Comedian Whoopi Goldberg took over for Rachael Ray to host this year’s massive grillfest at Dumbo’s landmark Tobacco Warehouse. As aromas of sizzling meat and grease wafted through the air, carnivorous guests noshed on burgers and side dishes, sipped Blue Moon brews and Sutter Home wines, and voted for their favorite patty. Beloved burger joints Shake Shack and Bill’s Bar and Burger drew the longest lines, while last year’s People’s Choice winner Bobby Flay attracted the biggest fan mob.
Some of the night’s mouthwatering bites included Beauty and Essex’s Lamb and Brisket Burger (with spicy garlic aioli, vine ripe tomato, goat-feta & pickled red onion), DBGB’s Piggy Burger (beef with BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño mayo, mustard-vinegar slaw & a cheddar bun), and Dram Shop’s Cheeseburger (two beef squares, double cheese & the works). Between burger sampling, attendees indulged in milkshakes and pie with Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman and belted out 80’s, 90’s and Top 40 hits along with a rockin’ cover band.
Judges David Burke, Anne Burrell, Adam Richman and Andrew Zimmern picked the cheddar cheese, Nueske bacon and brioche “Wisconsin” from Franklin Becker (Abe & Arthur’s) for the win, People’s Choice went to Josh Capon (Burger & Barrel) for his juicy bison round, and Chris Santos (Beauty & Essex) snagged the Heinz Best Dressed Burger Award. Many congrats to all!
Ultimately, this year’s Bash was a blast, even though a sudden mid-event downpour kept me from trying several of the burgers. No big deal—many more delicacies were on my evening’s agenda, and I left Brooklyn to make my way to the all-desserts soiree, SWEET.
From ballpark burger joints to highly acclaimed fine dining restaurants, the empire of Danny Meyer continues to dominate New York’s crowded culinary scene. With over 25 years of industry experience, multiple three- and four-star New York Times reviews and 21 James Beard Awards under his belt, the renowned restaurateur is most celebrated for his trademark approach to service and hospitality.
Recently, Danny and his talented team at Union Square Hospitality Group have set their sights on expanding to other locales, including additional Manhattan neighborhoods, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Miami, Washington DC, and even Dubai. Whether expressing his enthusiasm for a particular cuisine or being inspired by a culture-rich childhood, Danny demonstrates a true passion for life, family and food, in each of his distinctive ventures.
With all the current hype surrounding USHG’s rapidly growing portfolio and the intimate just-released documentary, The Restaurateur, I was eager to learn more about all the exciting things happening in the busy life of Danny Meyer.
Let’s start out by talking about something near and dear to the hearts of so many New Yorkers – Shake Shack. What’s in the works?
This summer, we’ll be opening in Washington DC, just below Dupont Circle, and also in the Washington Nationals baseball stadium. We figured as long as we’re opening in DC anyway, why not try to recapture some of the excitement like we brought to Citi Field a couple years ago.
And then we’re opening 2 other Shake Shacks this summer, one in Brooklyn and the other in Westport, CT on Boston Post Road. Westport is exciting because it will be the first Shake Shack that will not rely on pedestrian traffic—people will have to drive to it, and it will be interesting to see how it works, especially since Shake Shack was based on the traditional car-hop type of experience from the 1940s.
Also, our team is actually in Dubai right now, as we speak, because after 2 years of planning, we are opening our first international Shake Shack and its going to be a big one. It will be the exact same look and feel, except the menu will be translated in Arabic as well as English.
Congratulations on the opening of Untitled (in the Whitney museum). How’s that going?
Yes, it will be 3 weeks old this Thursday. We are still putting in the final physical touches, but it’s going very well. Even this past Monday when the museum was closed, every seat in the restaurant was taken. It’s a really fun take on the farm-to-table coffee shop concept, basically not trying to reinvent the wheel on the kinds of food people like to eat at a coffee shop, but saying ‘why not try to look a little bit differently on how the products are sourced and prepared?’
And you’ve had your restaurant, The Modern, and cafes in the MoMA for quite some time now. What is it about museum spaces that’s most appealing to you?
I absolutely love art. My mom actually had an art gallery where I grew up in St. Louis and when I was in college in CT, we used to come down to NY and go to the MoMA, the Guggenheim and the Whitney. I love being part of the cultural execution of a restaurant and, this may sound odd, but I love playing second fiddle to something that is much larger than we are.
For the same reason that Citi Field was so exciting, to be able to add to the excitement of things people love doing anyways—I can’t tell you how thrilling it is. For example, Jazz Standard was created not to take away from what people were coming for—jazz—but rather to enhance the experience with great food and drinks.
Hospitality seems to come first in any venture you put your name on. How has this mentality driven your success?
I think it’s what comes most naturally to me. We are so fortunate to be living in a city where there is an abundance of good food and chefs—so the challenge is to not find good food, but to find good food in a place that makes you feel good as well. People ask me all the time “how do you find such great chefs to work with?” For me, that’s the easy part. I know food, but the part that really can distinguish us is to not only find someone who can cook, but someone that loves to naturally make others happy through his or her dishes. That is what is important. This concept applies to all other positions in the restaurants including servers, maître d’s, managers, etc., who are not only great at what they do to keep the restaurant operating, but are also emotionally hard-wired to make sure every diner is having a great experience.
I’ve seen you at a few events recently, including South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash. How is having a presence at events and interacting with customers first-hand important to you?
There is really nothing more important. There is a limit to what you can learn behind the scenes. Interacting with our staff and guests—seeing, smelling, feeling and hearing what’s going on—is how we get all of our great ideas. It’s important that we use all of our senses in order make a place sing as sweetly as it possibly can.
Roger Sherman’s documentary, The Restaurateur, was just released on DVD. How did you feel about seeing yourself on the big screen?
In life, we wake up every day trying to do things a little bit better than we did yesterday, and going backwards in time was a really odd sensation. Note: I highly recommend seeing this film, which captures all the stresses, tough decisions and joys that Danny and team endured when simultaneously opening Tabla and Eleven Madison Park. The bare-all portrait features footage dating back to 1998, including a chef being replaced after initial reviews, signature-dish creation from Floyd Cardoz and Tom Colicchio (then executive chef of Gramercy Tavern) with hair!
Is there a standout piece of advice that you’ve received from a mentor and carried with you throughout your career?
I’ve received a lot of advice over the years, but I have to say, “Keep it meaningful and keep it real.” If you’re going to do something, do something that matters. Don’t just do it because you’re told it can’t be done. Before we decide to open a restaurant, we have to really understand where it came from. The reason why we are moving into baseball stadiums is because we love baseball, we know baseball and we understand what makes it a great experience.
Your restaurants have already won 21 James Beard Awards and recently received another 4 nominations. What does this kind of constant recognition mean to you and your staff?
It’s a tremendous morale booster. Fortunately, it’s not something that goes to anyone’s head because that could be dangerous. If anything, it just feels good and motivates us to start a new day and do whatever you can to be better tomorrow. The people in our organization are extremely proud of what they do, and it feels amazing when other peers in the industry, people who they respect, give them a vote of confidence. It’s like them saying “as much as you respect us, we think you’re one of the best in the business.” It just feels great.
If you could take a week off of work, with no Blackberry or emails, what would you do?
Well, being disconnected from my business is not something I personally could do, but I would love to take a bike riding trip in the south of Italy. Get a lot of exercise, eat a lot of great food and meet a lot of people. That would make me very happy.
I read that you lived in Italy when you were younger, is that right?
Yes, for about a year and a half with my wife. Mostly Rome, but also spent a little time in Bologna, Sardinia and Milan. That was really the motivation for opening Maialino, my love affair with Italy.
In addition to a strong love of Italy, having a large family is also something we have in common. Do your children like to play around in the kitchen?
Yes, we have 4 kids, and they all enjoy being in the kitchen, absolutely. Our oldest daughter, who is a senior in high school, is constantly cooking and baking—it’s a rare day that she doesn’t find time to bake something, even with her heavy school workload. It’s how she relaxes. The others love to cook as well and LOVE to eat.
Is there anything else on the horizon that you’d like to share?
Well, as sad as it was to close Tabla at the end of last year, the expression that “every time a door closes, another one opens” is so true. It gave us the opportunity to plan and conceive North End Grill with Floyd Cardoz, who was our chef at Tabla. This restaurant will really focus on refined grilling, which is very different than barbecue. Rather than slowly smoking something, it will be about really carefully grilling something. Floyd and I are so excited about it and he’s going to an amazing job with it.
Danny, thank you again for taking the time to chat with me and best of luck with all your new ventures!
For more info on Danny Meyer and his establishments, visit USHGNYC.com.
(Note: photo courtesy of Danny Meyer)
Kicking off this year’s South Beach Wine and Food Festival last night was the 5th annual Amstel Light Burger Bash, hosted by Rachel Ray. The much-anticipated meaty extravaganza drew A-list chefs and food personalities serving up their “best between a bun” for the ultimate burger throw down. Thousands of hungry guests swarmed to the Ritz-Carlton’s beachside tent to sink their teeth into a whopping 26 beefy creations and vote for their favorite. And we’re not talking about your standard patties here—these were some of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted.
During the gluttonous burger bonanza, some chefs chose to forgo the beef all together (elk and foie gras sliders from Tim Love, lamb and anchovy patties from Jonathon Sawyer), while others showcased inventive toppings—Bobby Flay featured crumbled potato chips on his Napa Valley Crunchified and Masaharu Morimoto cracked a fried egg over his Waygu Nikomi Burger.
Michael White offered one of the night’s juiciest bites—a Pat LaFrieda ground and dry-aged beef blend, smothered in American cheese with black tomato and butter lettuce, known as The White Label. And what New Yorker doesn’t love a Shake Shack burger? Danny Meyer knows not to mess with a good thing and doled out his famous Black Angus piled with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and “shack sauce”—a classic done well.
2009 People’s Choice winner Spike Mendelsohn dressed up as the Hamburglar in hopes of stealing back the title this year, but all tactics aside, his Colletti Smokehouse burger spoke for itself—with applewood smoked bacon, cheddar, beer-battered onion rings, chipotle BBQ sauce and a delicious toasted marshmallow milkshake to wash it all down with.
Other stand-outs included the Vermont cheddar, crispy onion and horseradish pepper sauced patty from Michael Schlow, and The Ritz Carlton’s decadent Hobb’s bacon and foie gras torchon topped Bistro Burger, served with earthy black truffle taters. And of course (drum roll please)…the two big winners of the night:
Marc Murphy snagged the prestigious Judges’ Favorite for the Big Marc—an all-beef patty on a homemade cheddar cheese and black pepper bun with spiked ketchup and bread-and-butter pickles. The cleverly executed burger and side of jalapeño tots was a truly title-deserving combo. (*Now, burger lovers can try the Big Marc themselves—it’s a new menu addition at NYC’s Ditch Plains and Landmarc. Go get one, trust me.)
Finally, Iron Chef Michael Symon defended his 2010 title and was crowned People’s Choice award winner for the second year in a row! The salty and spicy Yo! Burger, from Symon’s B Spot in Cleveland, won over the crowd with bold flavors from fried salami, provolone cheese, pickled onions and his mother-in-law’s zesty shasha sauce. And the Nutella and hazelnut liqueur milkshake that came with it? Sold me on the first sip.
Congrats to all the winners and competitors who made Burger Bash 2011 a smashing success! After I powered my way through, bite by bite, I sought chocolately relief from Jacque Torres, but even I was too stuffed for dessert. After all, I have a long weekend of eating ahead and am saving my sweet tooth for tonight’s Let Them Eat Cake event. Enjoy some of Burger Bash’s best shots below:
The battle for the best is fierce, but what’s your favorite burger?