What's the sizzle?
Get to know Amar Santana, a chef using naturally raised beef
1. How long have you used Aspen Ridge beef?
I have been using Aspen Ridge for about 3 years now, starting at Broadway by Amar Santana and now Vaca.
2. What do you like about Aspen Ridge beef?
I really like the consistency of the product, how tender it is and how good it tastes – it’s very delicious meat.
3. How do your customers respond to having Aspen Ridge beef on your menu?
Well the customers love it–now they associate the Aspen name with high quality product, especially at Vaca where we serve the dry aged ribeye cooked over wood using citrus and red oak. Best steak I ever had!
4. How does the fact that it’s Angus affect the eating experience?
Angus Beef is known for its finely marbled meat, which means that the fat is dispersed evenly against the actual cut of meat. This marbling trait of Angus cattle typically creates a more tender, juicy and flavorful meat than other breeds.
5. How is Natural Beef different than other beef? For the beef to be labeled “natural” it cannot contain any artificial flavors or flavorings, coloring ingredients, chemical preservatives, or other artificial or synthetic ingredients.
Well, I was very impressed while I visited Aspen Ridge in Greeley, Colorado after seeing the whole process, the special diet that cattle are fed, and the way Aspen Ridge cares for the animal from the moment they arrive at the feeding house to the moment they are taken to the slaughterhouse.
6. Why is offering natural beef on your menu important to you?
Offering natural beef these days is important. Natural means healthier, and people are watching what they are eating and want nothing but the best.
7. What Aspen Ridge cuts of beef do you use?
We are currently using ribeye, skirt, New York and hanger steaks.
8. How do you like to prepare those cuts?
I like to keep it simple, when you are working with great product like Aspen Ridge, just salt and pepper is all you need.
9. How does Aspen Ridge beef compare to other premium (Upper 2/3 Choice & Prime) programs?
It’s a big difference, because Aspen Ridge is such a consistent product. Usually when using choice or other grades, you will have some tough pieces of meat and they’re also not as flavorful as Aspen Ridge.
10. Besides a traditional steak (NY Strip, Ribeye, Filet, etc.), what’s your favorite cut of Aspen Ridge beef to prepare: Favorite non-typical/unique cut?
Beef cheeks are my favorite because if you braise them right, nice and tender, they’re very delicious.
11. Do you have a favorite wine to pair Aspen Ridge beef with?
There are plenty of wines that will pair nicely with Aspen Ridge Beef. From California, a big lush Cabernet from Napa or a dry one from Oregon. From Italy, a Barolo will do wonders. From Spain, a Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero will make you think you’re in heaven. From France, beside the Bordeaux style wine to the Rhône varietals, I like a nice Chateauneuf de Pape.
12. What’s the perfect doneness (rare, medium, etc.) and why? Which brings out the flavor the most?
In my personal opinion, I like my steak cooked medium rare with a nice warm center. I feel it brings out the flavor more and the texture is better.
13. What’s your favorite dish or type of cuisine to cook/eat and why?
I don’t have a favorite dish and when it comes to cuisine, I enjoy food in general. Vaca is a steakhouse and Spanish tapas restaurant, while Broadway by Amar Santana is more of a cuisine of the Americas, meaning it’s a melting pot of flavors and culture.
14. How would you describe your cooking style?
My cooking style is fresh, simple and flavorful. I don’t like to mess with ingredients, especially being in California where everything is so fresh and delicious.
15. What influences/inspires you and your cooking style?
I get inspired everyday. I learn so much from our guests when they travel and come back to tell me about a dish they had or a restaurant they visited. Also, for me, it is all about what’s good out there. Our menu changes seasonally.
16. What are your top 3 to 5 tips or suggestions you’d give novice cooks or cooks at home?
Respect the ingredients, season everything, cook from your heart and less is more.
17. What’s your favorite ingredient?
My favorite ingredients at the moment are sweetbreads, beef cheeks, smoked paprika and sea urchin.
18. What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I like to make people happy with my cooking, and also enjoy the creativity of being a chef. I enjoy having fun with the food while keeping the integrity of the ingredients. There is always something new you can do with just one ingredient.
19. What’s in your fridge at home?
I usually have eggs and cheese in my fridge. I never cook at home, but I can always scramble some eggs with cheese when I get hungry at night.
20. What would you choose as your last meal?
My last meal would be a nice feast of grilled meats, roasted pork and a nice bottle of red wine … simple, yet delicious.
Hometown: Queens, NY – currently resides in Orange County, CA
Culinary Education: A.O.S Culinary Arts, C.I.A
Amar is the Executive Chef and Partner at the famed Broadway By Amar Santana in Laguna Beach, CA and Vaca in Costa Mesa, CA. Born in the Dominican Republic, Santana immigrated to the U.S. at age 13 and began his culinary career at 16. He was mentored by some of the world’s most renowned chefs, helping him develop his skills and express his passion through food. He has also earned many accolades throughout his career, most recently Bravo’s Top Chef Season 13 runner up. By combining flavors and culinary traditions from all over the world, Chef Amar provides a truly unforgettable gastronomical experience.