Celebrity Chef Chat - Stephen Hopcraft
The executive chef of STK at Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas shares his views on perfecting the modern steakhouse.
Monday, June 18, 2012
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We all know that dining keeps on changing. Even the stalwart steakhouse is adapting to better reflect the habits of today’s health conscious eating public. One place to see the modern steakhouse era come to life is at STK. Owners The ONE Group have outlets in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and since the hotel’s opening in December 2010 at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Run by executive chef Stephen Hopcraft, STK at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, the restaurant is part of a collection heralding a new generation of Las Vegas celebrity chefs in a market originally created by names such as Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay.
In fact, Hopcraft trained under some of the best known chefs leading the modern culinary scene. He had an internship with Chicago's Master Chef Charlie Trotter and then went to work with Chef Michael Mina at his famed outlets such as Arcadia, StripSteak and SeaBlue.
Oh yeah, Hopcraft has also been a contestant on Top Chef and appeared on the Food Network's "Chefs vs. City.
We have the interview below for your reading pleasure, but you can listen to the full interview via podcast. Just click listen. Or download it and listen to it on your next drive!
Glenn Haussman: So, Stephen, you have got yourself a job here as executive chef, one of the coolest restaurants in Las Vegas. In fact we’re hovering over the Las Vegas strip in what is arguably one of the highlights of the food and beverage scene, here at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. So, tell me a little bit about what made you think that you, sir, had to be a chef?
Stephen Hopcraft: How I became a chef was quite by accident. I started out as a dishwasher in Ohio where I lived at the time. I had long hair, so they basically wouldn't hire you for anything else besides –
Glenn Haussman: [Laughter]
Stephen Hopcraft: – either working outside or, if you were inside, you had to do dishes. So, I opted for the dish trade, and was getting pretty well at it when I moved to California. However – which was when I was about 16 or 17, my plan, really, in moving to California was to become a sculptor. I wanted to be an artist. And, somehow food and art – the way I see it – they intertwine, so once I started cooking, I kind of saw that's where I wanted be.
Glenn Haussman: So, how do you feel – like, you bring together food and art. Now, we're sitting here in a steak house, and you guys are doing kind of a different spin on what a steak house typically is when we think about it. I think your tag line is, “not your daddy's steak house,” right?
Stephen Hopcraft: That's us. Yeah. Not your daddy's steakhouse.
Glenn Haussman: [Laughter] So, how is it different from a typical steakhouse?
Stephen Hopcraft: But, you need your daddy's checkbook. [Laughter]
Glenn Haussman: [Laughter] Fortunately, I use my boss's checkbook.
Stephen Hopcraft: There you go.
Glenn Haussman: Tell me a little bit about what your point of view is here, and how you're re-imagining what the steak scene can be.
Stephen Hopcraft: Well, the concept was brought together by Jonathan Segal and The One Group, and I came on a little bit later, when they decided to do Vegas. We did some tastings together, and we had a lot of conversations together, and I think it kind of led to them realizing that our dreams are kind of intertwined as far as our visions for a successful restaurant. I like to call it the devil's pitchfork or the trident – you know, three-pronged approach – where you have to have brilliant food, awesome service, and an amazing vibe – a one-of-a-kind vibe.
Glenn Haussman: Yeah. Well, the vibe here is definitely one-of-a-kind, and I haven't seen the service or the food yet, but I'm sure that that's really awesome. So, you're working with steaks, but everybody can do a steak. What makes this place different?
Stephen Hopcraft: Okay. Well, our steaks are – we serve them – I guess our idea is to cater to women, and we have small, medium, and large so that – and that's kind of where the “not your daddy's” thing comes in, because basically, it's not like one of those old, staunchy steakhouses where you go and you get like a 24 ounce cut, bone-in, all the old man type of cuts.
We do more petite cuts, more friendly to people who are trying to watch their weight, trying to enjoy a high quality meal, but yet not try to overstuff themselves. Because most of our guests are going to not only come and party at STK, but the evening goes on, and they continue to party at the clubs here at the Cosmopolitan and all over Las Vegas.
Glenn Haussman: Stephen, you couldn't have said it better yourself, because one of the problems that I have when I'm in Las Vegas is I have to come to that decision point: Am I going out for steaks? Or, am I going out on the town?
Stephen Hopcraft: Right.
Glenn Haussman: Because I just can't eat that much. It just makes me wanna go into this horrible food coma. And what the interesting thing is – and I think that hoteliers all over the country can do this – is that you don't have to have the piece of meat that's gigantic. That is not necessarily what people are looking for.
You know, I find as I get older, my tastes are changing. I still wanna have that, but I don't need those massive portions anymore.
Stephen Hopcraft: Yeah. I think we're talking about quality over quantity, and that's what we try to do is deliver a great piece of meat – now, don't get me wrong, we do have 34 ounce cowboys, and we have those other huge cuts that we generally like to slice and share, but we do have those available – but, giving people the option to go lighter is kind of one of our niches.
Glenn Haussman: That's great.
Stephen Hopcraft: In Las Vegas and in basically the United States and, quite frankly, the world.
Glenn Haussman: Right.
Stephen Hopcraft: Not yet the galaxy, but we're working on it.
Glenn Haussman: It's funny because I know you guys are planning STK Mars, so I'm very excited to –
Stephen Hopcraft: Yeah, baby.
Glenn Haussman: – go check out that one. That should be great.
Stephen Hopcraft: It's far out. It's far out.
Glenn Haussman: [Laughter] It is far out. I guess it will have to be “not your grandfather's steakhouse” by the time you get that done.
Stephen Hopcraft: Yeah, maybe.
Glenn Haussman: So, tell me a little bit about what you do with the meat and what kind of meat are you using.
Stephen Hopcraft: Okay, well, we use prime beef. In most of our cuts, we use choice filets. Our prime beef is aged. The ribeyes are aged. The New Yorks and the porterhouses are aged. Not the filets. But, the age gives a certain flavor to it, and what aging does, really, is it also tenderizes while it flavors. The beef hangs, and there's an enzyme that develops in the beef, and it goes to break down and make it more tender. That's one.
The next thing it does is it also imparts this kind of nutty, amazing flavor to it. So, dry aged prime beef is our starting. That's our jump-off point. Then, we have a broiler. It's an infrared broiler that goes up to, like, 800 degrees.
So, we take that steak, and we get it going with a little bit of red wine butter – and this is when we take red wine and we reduce it with shallots and herbs, and then we fold that red wine into butter – and then we baste, basically brush it, over the steak as it cooks. This develops a very sweet and crispy crust on the steak. So, that's really what I look for in a steak – a really nice crust on it that's got a crispness to it, and then a nice creamy inside to it so you're not chewing all day. But, it has like a creaminess and, of course, that beef flavor has to shine through everything.
Stephen Hopcraft: Here, we do serve our meat with an option of about nine different sauces.
Glenn Haussman: Yeah. I see that whole sauce thing on the side really starting to come up in popularity. Why is that happening? And, what kind of stuff do you offer?
Stephen Hopcraft: We do some traditional stuff. Honestly, I don't know how warranted it is with the quality of beef that we use that you necessarily need a sauce but, it is something that's kind of like that extra – you know, people like bleu cheese with their steak. People like horseradish with their steak. We have our own STK sauce that we developed here that's kind of like an A.1. sauce that's homemade. And, we have the STK bold, which is that same sauce with just more of everything in it, and it's really nice and spicy. You know, and some cuts that we have on the menu, like maybe a skirt steak or something like that –
Glenn Haussman: But, you don't see skirt steaks very often on steakhouse menus.
Stephen Hopcraft: Yeah, it's one of those steaks that it's nice, it does have a tendency to be a little chewy but when cut properly, it isn't that chewy, and what it does have is a lot of flavor. Now, with a steak like a skirt that has so much flavor, it can stand up to a sauce. So, you might want to put some chimichurri – which we have –
Glenn Haussman: Yeah. That seems to be a natural compliment to a skirt steak.
Stephen Hopcraft: Sure. Or, some STK sauce, or a little béarnaise, or a red wine reduction – any of these things are gonna go really great with – the acidity in those sauces kind of cuts the fat, and cuts that richness a little bit, so that you can continue to eat.
Glenn Haussman: Mmm. Now, that sounds good.
Stephen Hopcraft: Yeah.
Glenn Haussman: All right. So, I'm getting filled up on my steak, here, but I still want a great side dish. What kind of spins are you seeing with modern trends on that?
Stephen Hopcraft: I mean, side dishes are, you know, you're always gonna have to have your Yukon whipped potatoes. Here, we try and keep our sides towards a healthier side, although I would say my signature side – which is the mushroom pot pie – isn't really anywhere near the word “healthy” –
Glenn Haussman: [Laughter] Right.
Stephen Hopcraft: – but it is delicious. And we start with a mushroom cream and several different types of mushrooms, including truffles, and we put that into a pot, and then we cap it with 3-2-1 dough, and we bake that up and it just comes out bubbly and delicious – something that goes great with your steak.
And, some of our other sides, like our asparagus served with a jalapeño orange hollandaise, and then the mac and cheese, it's classic mac and cheese, but we do use Asiago, Emmenthaler, and Gruyère cheeses, as well as a white cheddar – you know, to try and give it a lot of mix of cheese and flavors.
Glenn Haussman: Yeah.
Stephen Hopcraft: And, these are the things that we do with our sides. We really try and go over the top to make 'em accompany the great meat that we have on the plate.
Glenn Haussman: Okay, so, you mentioned healthy eating, and I'm finding healthy eating is, I believe, to really be a trend that's starting to move from people say they wanna eat healthy to people actually starting to eat healthy. Would you –
Stephen Hopcraft: Yeah, it's like the workout trend. [Laughter]
Glenn Haussman: Yeah. Exactly. So, it's nice to see that people are starting to make that migration.
Stephen Hopcraft: Well, people do. And, I will say this: When you walk into the STK dining room at any day at about 9:30pm, you can see some of the most beautiful people who obviously take really good care of themselves.
Glenn Haussman: That's why they'll be kicking me out at 9:29pm. [Laughter]
Stephen Hopcraft: [Laughter] Copy that.
Glenn Haussman: [Laughter] Thanks.