Calistoga chef Brandon Sharp reached a national audience last week when one of his dishes was featured on an episode of the Food Network show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
Famed New Orleans chef John Besh listed Sharp’s “Steak Frites” as the best French-style dish he had eaten in an episode focusing on the classic cuisine, asking famous chefs and food critics to reminisce about great eating experiences. The network won’t say exactly how many people watched the episode, but Food Network is available in more than 100 million households in the U.S.
“I spent the best years of my life in France. ... I hate to say it, but [Sharp’s dish] might be better than France,” Besh said on the show.
Sharp, now the executive chef at Solbar restaurant at the Solage resort, had worked for Besh at his famed Restaurant August between 2002 and 2004. Besh called him up earlier this year looking for inspiration to go on air and talk about a great French dish, and they zeroed in on the Steak Frites from the bar menu.
“It’s great with a robust red wine … yet it’s really simple and it has mass appeal,” Sharp said.
For all the excitement, a good steak frites is surprisingly basic, nothing more than a nicely cooked steak and French fries (or “frites” as the French would have it, pronounced so as to rhyme with “feet”). It’s often paired with a simple salad (making it a “Steak Frites Salade” en Francias) and it is a standard dish at good French bistros worldwide.
Sharp doesn’t keep the dish on his regular dining room menu (“It’s a little austere for what we do,” he admits), but he does have it on the lounge menu, served at the bar.
Sharp didn’t want this to be just another steak frites, so he put a twist on it. Several twists, in fact, starting with the fact that he turned to the relatively little-known flat iron steak, from the shoulder of a cow, rather than more traditional cuts like a sirloin or filet.
Moreover, this flat iron comes from the exotic Wagyu cows of Snake River Farms in Idaho, a Japanese breed of cow raised under special conditions that are said to produce much greater flavor and tenderness than traditional beef.
He sears the beef in oil, slips it in the oven for a few minutes, then tops it with his Bordelaise, a red-wine sauce that he makes with the juices of roasted veal.
Then he adds some really good French fries.
“French fries are the perfect food,” Sharp said. “Just one ingredient.”
Since the piece first ran on July 25, Sharp said, an increasing number of people have come in asking for it and even more have called the restaurant about it. It’s roughly doubled his sales of the dish, he said, but the numbers don’t matter; the important thing is that the short segment on the TV has given the restaurant and the town more visibility and may draw in people who will try other things on the menu.
The whole Food Network segment, Sharp’s first mention on network TV, was only about three minutes long. Filming, however, took three hours with a three-member crew, resulting in perhaps 15 seconds of Sharp himself being quoted on camera.
Besh didn’t come to the restaurant for the filming; the unidentified hands and mouths seen cutting and eating in the segment belong to Solage staff and the camera crew, who got to eat the final product.
Sharp is used to being in the press — he’s been mentioned on regional TV and featured in national newspapers and magazines — but he seems tickled to have his first national exposure on TV.
His kids, however, now 3 and 1 1/2, were surprisingly blasé about the whole thing, possibly because Sharp’s brother Graham is a member of the Steep Canyon Rangers, a bluegrass band that has been backing comedian Steve Martin as he builds a career as a serious banjo player.
“I don’t think [the kids] think it’s a big deal to be on TV; they see [Graham] on Letterman, on the PBS Fourth of July, on Ellen,” Sharp said. “They think everybody is on TV.”