Should a Chef Ever Change His Signature Dish?

Chef’s Note:
Dry-aged meat is tastier for many reasons. Some of the water has been evaporated. Basically: remove water, intensify flavor.


The end of Summer is here. Family vacations are coming to an end and we are all ramping up for fall schedules and routines.

We just returned from our family trip to North Carolina. As we all know, getting away from the day-to-day can be a very good thing. Every time I travel I come home smarter and inspired.

While on break, I found myself watching a documentary called Steak (R)evolution, I was very touched by what I saw while viewing it.

porter-road-butcherThat film, along with the fact that we recently completed a taste test with Porter Road Butcher (PRB) here at Lockeland Table, has brought about some changes.

The test was comprised of our comparing a wet-aged beef product versus a dry-aged product. What we discovered during the process was the increased tenderness and the flavor of the dry-aged item. In my opinion, the dry-aged was just “better” all the way around.

People may not be familiar with what dry-aging fully entails. When you dry age a product, something called aeration happens. Basically, it is when water is removed from the product. For example, If you take a loin of meat and put it in a controlled environment with cool air around it, then take water away from it, you’re going to increase the flavor. Take away water, intensify flavor.

That is one of the reasons I feel the wood-burning oven is so special. It’s at such a high heat that when you cook vegetables, the intensity of the heat pulls out the extra water. And that allows for more flavorful, roasted vegetables.

signature_dish_steakThe question became, do we shift away from our usual sourcing option and move toward the utilization of dry-aged strips for our signature dish? We have, to this point, been using good strip steaks, and we were happy with the quality. But after talking to Porter Road Butcher, and doing the test, we began moving in the direction of the dry-aged beef.

We use local farms for Lockeland Table for most items, but I wasn’t sure if we could make this happen. Obviously, the dry-aged product is a bit more expensive. It did make us a bit nervous at first. After watching the video, learning the things I have in the past month, and tasting the quality of the meats, I now think to myself, maybe we should have done this sooner. We recently did a test of our product mix, and we found that the sales were very similar. This proved to us that our guests don’t mind paying a few more dollars for a product that is a local, dry-aged, PRB product. We believe the quality is going to be enjoyed by our guests and that it is going to take our signature dish to the next level. It’s been an interesting transition that has also brought about some other positive changes.

Something that was also interesting…when beef is delivered to us, the packaging tells us the name of the farm from which the meat has been sourced. When we realized that the product was coming from a farm in Cheatham county, where I and my family live, and where Cara grew up, it all just started to make sense.

It isn’t that the other products we were using prior to the transition were bad, it’s just that we are continuing to learn. The new information we received gave us the opportunity to make positive changes towards more of the smaller farm products that are closer to Nashville. It is another step forward. In essence, we just got better in that we are sourcing things better today than we were last week.

I have always said this is an ongoing study, and it will continue to be just that. As we learn more, we will grow. The decisions that we make from that growth will not only benefit Lockeland Table, they will have an impact on the lives of our employees, our family and our community as well.

It has been such a great transition that we decided to create a Chef’s Class around beef. We will be bringing PRB in to be a part of that experience. Just a few seats are left, so call today and reserve your spot. I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you then!

– Chef Hal

2 replies on “Should a Chef Ever Change His Signature Dish?”

  1. Great stuff. I love steak, but I am no expert. This may be a dumb question, but here goes: could I buy steaks and dry-age them at home? Obviously I don’t know how, but I’m curious to know if it’s even possible…

    Thanks !

  2. I enjoyed the New York Strip last night – it was hands down the best steak I ever put in my mouth. I am still thinking about it and talking about it. Incredible!

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