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Celebrity Chef Chat - Anthony Meidenbauer

The mastermind behind Holsteins Shakes & Buns at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas shares advice on how to make a great burger, create a winning craft beer program and what’s hot in sides.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
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In our final article featuring interviews with some of the great chefs at The Cosmopolitan we thought we take it back to one of America’s most basic but favorite food; the hamburger.

Although the humble hamburger is a staple in American cuisine, its popularity has risen considerably in recent years. A probable side effect of the Great Recession this classic has gone upscale. And now this emerging haute hamburger is turning the dependable meal into a culinary playground that’s constantly being redefined by people like Chef Anthony Meidenbauer at Holsteins Shakes & Buns.

His official title is Corporate Executive Chef/Director of Culinary Operations with Block 16, owners of Holsteins as well as LBS Burger at Red Rock and Public House at Venetian, which recently opened and highlights the craft beers trend. We’ve eaten at all these places and man oh man are they yummy! Oh yeah, they own the Vegas outlet of Pink’s Hot Dogs too.

At Block 16 he helps guide the overall direction of each restaurant’s food and dreaming up burgers like the El Machete which features a a Beef Patty topped with fire roasted Anaheim chili, Borracho onions, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion & spicy ‘Machete’ aioli.

We’ve gone ahead and given you some select highlights below, but if you’re looking for a supersized amount of info click the link below to play or download it and listen to it on your next drive. Or better yet while you enjoy your next burger. And don’t forget to take a sip of a famous Holsteins bam-boozled milkshake while you’re at it.

Listen to this Interview

To see more episodes and podcasts, click here.
You can also subscribe on iTunes.

Glenn Haussman: You know, one of the biggest problems that I have in life is my love for a really good burger.

A. Meidenbauer: You know, everyone loves a great burger. That's what we're here to do at Holsteins, give great burgers, great shakes, great beers. It's a great place to hang out – whether you're gambling on the casino floor, or here to go to the night club, or just to walk around this beautiful property. We're definitely filling that void for burgers.

Glenn Haussman: Yeah. But, speaking about the whole burger thing, it seems like in the last six, seven years, that burger thing has really exploded – much more high end burgers, people seem to really be caring about it. Where did this trend come from? And, what's going on?

A. Meidenbauer: I think, first and foremost, it was a function of the economy. People still love to go out, have a great time, have great service, have great food, but couldn't necessarily afford that expensive steak and bottle of wine, anymore.So, now they've filled that need with burgers and beer.

Glenn Haussman: Right. [Laughter]

A. Meidenbauer: And, bamboozled milkshakes that we have here at Holsteins.

Glenn Haussman: Yeah, you do. You've got these great milkshakes. Before we – let's talk about these milkshakes for a second because they're awesome. You've got all sorts of liquor in there, all sorts of different flavors.

A. Meidenbauer: I think what's cool is you can do what you want and have fun with them. That's the most important thing. People think about milkshakes, think about their childhood, and we come up with fun, cool names and flavors that people will remember from a candy bar, to junk food, to a s'mores, like we have our campfire s'mores – which is the chocolate graham crackers and marshmallows.

So, we get to play around with that, and evoke people's childhood memories, and give them a little alcohol. You know, it fits the Vegas theme, if you will. So, you can have some great things. But, that's the trend, is to create fun things that people really, you know, give 'em a throwback to their childhood.

Glenn Haussman: All right. So, did you think, growing up, that you were going to become a burger baron?

A. Meidenbauer: Never. No. I always loved cooking. I was doing culinary school, and all that fun stuff, and it kind of just fell into my lap with the company that we started here about five years ago, Block 16 Hospitality – which is a parent company that operates Holsteins as well as our other five venues.

We started four or five years ago at Red Rock Station with LBS, and then we stepped it up and came here on the strip to The Cosmopolitan. We had the great opportunity to work with them, and we developed this concept, taking what we were doing at LBS and moving it a few steps further.

Glenn Haussman: Yeah. It definitely feels like this is a more matured version of that.

A. Meidenbauer: It absolutely is. You gotta look at the demographic that you're serving, and the locals, the areas where we're at, they just wanna have a good time, great food, at a moderate price point. They don't wanna go crazy. They're not as adventurous. When you're on the strip, you got a lot of young people that are coming in, they're having a great time.

You got people in suits for conventions. You got older couples. So, we broaden the scope of what we offer here at Holsteins, and we're hitting pretty much everyone. So, whether you're here on a business trip in a suit or you're just walking the strip with your friends on spring break, or you're on your 20th anniversary, there's something – you can come in and relate to something we're offering here at Holsteins.

Glenn Haussman: And that's so critical, really, to try to appeal to someone, and one of the things that I love is how complimentary the food and beverage collection is here. If you want something, it's going to be here, and it's not going to overrun some of the other places.

But, we also have [shakes], some great mixed cocktails, some classics. We do competitions with our bartenders –

Glenn Haussman: Oh, fun.

A. Meidenbauer: We have to come up with ideas. It gets them involved and engaged with the guests, coming up with different things. Then, on top of the shakes, we also have a large, large beer program. We have 24 beers on tap. We have another 140 by the bottle.

Glenn Haussman: Wow.

A. Meidenbauer: We have about 167, I believe is the tally right now of beers offered at Holsteins.

Glenn Haussman: That's amazing.

A. Meidenbauer: Yup. And, we also have a pretty decent wine selection. So, you can come get a bottle of wine and your beer. You can come get a mixed cocktail, or you can come get an amazing beer – a large format beer that's aged in different whiskey barrels, that has great flavors and stuff. So, we have pretty much everything that you could be looking for.

Glenn Haussman: I have a lot of mom and pop hoteliers, a lot of career-oriented hoteliers listening to this too, so if you were to suggest to them to start a beer program, are there any – what's the right amount of taps, maybe, to start with, and what would you really go for first?

A. Meidenbauer: I think 24 is good. Anything more than that, it's too many. And, a lot of the better beers are better enjoyed out of a bottle, and even out of a can.

A can is pretty much, probably, the best way to enjoy a beer. And so, it's just developing your bottle and can program. You don't even need the amount that we have. We have two certified cicerones in our company –

Glenn Haussman: Really?

A. Meidenbauer: – which are the beer sommeliers. One of our other properties is a beer-centric restaurant public house. We have over 200 beers there. We have cask-conditioned ales, which are very specialized. So, that's basically – we started our love of beer here and then moved it on over there, and really expanded it. So, having a couple of cicerones doesn't hurt. There's only, I think, 53 in the country, and we have two in our company. So, we have those guys really working on honing the program, and we're constantly trying to develop it and get more things. Because there's a lot of great east coast breweries that don't come out west.

Glenn Haussman: Yeah. And, it's amazing. I live in Brooklyn, New York, so I'm seeing that real beer renaissance that's happened in the last three, four years. Which, now that I think of it, really is tied very closely to the hamburger renaissance, it seems.

A. Meidenbauer: Right. It has. It has.

Glenn Haussman: So so you've got all these beers, but you've gotta match that with a fabulous burger. What's the secret to making a really good burger? Because when I'm at home, it's not happening.

A. Meidenbauer: It's the meat. It's all about the meat. There's that interplay between meat and bread, which is very important. We grind some of our own meats here, and then we also have a partnership with a butcher that supplies meat for our entire company. And, it's to my specifications. We use a dry aged blend, which everyone knows that goes to a great steak house, dry aged meat is where all the flavor is.

When you dry age, it's like removing the moisture and intensifying the flavor.

So, we're using trim from ribeye dry aged meat that about 21 to 27 day dry age process. When they cut those big steaks, they have pieces in between that don't quite match up, so they use that to get blended into the grind for our burger. So, that's where the intense meat flavor comes from. You can't get that at a store.

Glenn Haussman: Right. No. And, that is spectacular. I never heard of taking that kind of dry aged beef and then putting it into another thing. But, it seems to me, you're telling me that the secret to really good, good burger is not just having that, but it's gotta be a couple of different cuts of meat.

A. Meidenbauer: Yeah. Absolutely. It's the synergy of all the components put together, not just one item. But, the meat is the starting point. If you don't start off well, you're not going to finish well. So, we start off with great products. We have a great local bakery that produces our bread for us, for actually all of our venues. It's a brioche style blend. It's actually a blend of a brioche and potato flour, so it's a little mix in between. It's not too rich, not too sweet. But, it's nice, and soft, and squishy. So, it's a great foundation to build the burger on. They're seasoned just simple salt and pepper, and then grilled over a char grill.

Glenn Haussman: Now, when you're grilling over the char grill, how long are you supposed to be cooking it to get that medium rare so it's nice and crusty on the outside, but nice and pink on the inside?

A. Meidenbauer: The key is extremely high heat. You wanna be about 550 degrees. 500 to 550 is ideal. So, you get that quick, initial sear, and you really only need about two and a half to three minutes per side to get it a perfect medium rare.

If you have the hot grill, you don't need to cook it on its own, and the most important thing is don't touch it.

Put it on the grill. Let it set, and then you flip it and let it cook, and you're done.

Glenn Haussman: That's one of my biggest grilling faux pas is I just can't stay away –

A. Meidenbauer: You gotta stop playing with it.

Glenn Haussman: I know.

A. Meidenbauer: Don't play with your meat.

Glenn Haussman: [Laughter]

A. Meidenbauer: Let it grill.

Glenn Haussman: That's what my mom used to tell me. Now, that's what my wife tells me.

A. Meidenbauer: Yeah.

Glenn Haussman: But, I got a perfect idea is when I cook that burger, I'll just focus on my beer, instead –

A. Meidenbauer: Absolutely.

Glenn Haussman: – and not get crazy with the flipping. Now, it's not just about having the perfect burger. It's about having everything built around that burger, and you talked about the bun. What are you finding are some of the flavors of burgers that you're doing, styles that are selling most through that you think are fun?

A. Meidenbauer: Well, we have a lot of – our Asian-inspired burgers sell really well. We have a burger we call the “rising sun.” If you peruse across our menu, all of our menu names are supposed to be playful. Rising sun – Japan is the “country of the rising sun” – so that's what we call the burger.

Glenn Haussman: Is that like a Kobe burger?

A. Meidenbauer: It's a Kobe beef burger, and it's glazed with our own house-made teriyaki glaze. We put Nori Furikake, which is a seaweed and spice blend, on top of that, so you give it that little sushi spin on it.

Glenn Haussman: That's interesting.

A. Meidenbauer: And we top it off with crispy yams, which we take and spiral cut some yams, crisp fry 'em, and a tempura fried avocado.

Glenn Haussman: [Makes drooling sound, then laughs]

A. Meidenbauer: So, then we finish it off with some chili mayo, which we make with a chili paste, and some mayonnaise, and some different flavorings in it.

So, you put that all together, you have this interplay between crunchy, sweet, spicy, and the richness of the meat. So, it's just flawless. It's perfect.

Glenn Haussman: Sounds great. A lot of well-balanced flavors and textures create that full experience. You do sweet potato fries here? Right?

A. Meidenbauer: Sweet potato fries? Yeah.

Glenn Haussman: That's really taken off in the last couple of years, as well.

A. Meidenbauer: Yeah, sweet potato fries are becoming very popular. I don't know why. They just are. People like – it's different. Because, you know what, you go to everyone – everyone eats fast food. If they tell you they don't, they probably lie.

Glenn Haussman: Ah, ya.

A. Meidenbauer: So, they're out there. They're going to those huge, the big chains, and they're getting those french fries and burgers, and they eat that fry. Everyone eats fries. So, when you see something that's different, you're gonna try it. I think it become – people, Americans, love sweet stuff.

Glenn Haussman: Right. And, not only that, but they seem to be a little bit healthier than your typical French fry and when it's done right, they're so crispy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside. Right?

A. Meidenbauer: Soft and creamy in the inside. Absolutely. They're delicious.

Glenn Haussman: That's the best. What are other side dishes that you're finding are pretty hot these days?

A. Meidenbauer: The tater tots are starting to get hot again. Every kid remembers eating those on their lunch tray at school when you had three of 'em with your grilled cheese, or whatever. So, it's a nostalgic thing. Onion rings are always popular. We're focusing here on a lot of fun sides. We're doing fusion things where we're taking Korean flavors and mixing them with Mexican things. That was really big in L.A. We have some quesadillas, like a Korean-style quesadilla.

We do mac and cheese, which is big. It's a lobster and truffled mac and cheese, so again, it plays on those nostalgia things where you're thinking back to your childhood, eating mac and cheese. But, it's made a little bit fancier.

Glenn Haussman: Now, the most creative I've ever gotten was to put ketchup on both sides of the burger. How do you find your inspiration to create all of these really cool things?

A. Meidenbauer: It's a collaborative thing. I have a great team of chefs around me that I've worked with for years at different properties, and we've all kind of come together again, in some of our venues. So, having a great relationship with the team you work with, and coming up with ideas is the most important thing.

I like to look over and go to a lot of county fairs and see what they're doing, because those grassroot things is where a lot of these things start, and taking those ideas and developing them, and stepping 'em up or back, and taking things – we like to take ideas that people know, like pizza – we did this idea – we ran it on our fall menu – it's pizza Twinkies. Everyone loves Twinkies, and everyone knows pizza.

Glenn Haussman: Pizza Twinkies?

A. Meidenbauer: So, we took a light, airy potato dough that we bake in a mold that looks the shape of a Twinkie, and it's filled with pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, and oven roasted tomato. When we baked 'em off and we actually filled 'em with the ricotta cheese like the three holes – so, when you visually looked at it, it looked like a Twinkie, but when you ate it, it was pizza. So, we took two ideas that everyone knows, and kind of melded 'em together.

Same thing with – we have an egg roll that's filled with Philly cheesesteak. We take good old Velveeta and shred a pepper jack cheese in, and grilled steak, caramelized onions, and it tastes like a Philly cheesesteak, and when it's served with our, what we call “udder sauce” – which is our house-made ketchup – and it's the perfect combination –

Glenn Haussman: Is there like a little spiciness to the udder sauce?

A. Meidenbauer: The udder sauce is – it's a little, not quite spicy hot, but there's more flavors into it. We use sherry vinegar, apple cider vinegar, honey. So it's a little bit more complex, and it's really cooked for a long period of time. So, it's not your average Heinz or Hunt's ketchup. It's a little bit more coarse, but it's really good.

Glenn Haussman: It's funny because I'm finding everything is being elevated now with this whole trend even the lowly ketchup.

A. Meidenbauer: Right.

Glenn Haussman: I'm seeing a lot more Sriracha being introduced to ketchup and all of that. So, it's interesting. Is there any other unusual trends that you see going on?

A. Meidenbauer: There's trends with everything. All the toppings. I think the biggest trend is making everything, in gourmet burgers, is making your toppings, making different aiolis, making different mayonnaises. To take something off the shelf just doesn't cut it anymore.

Glenn Haussman: No. And, I'll tell you what. If you're at a hotel, and you're in the middle of the country, a lot of these guys just rely on frozen patties, But, I think you could tell them best that it's not gonna cost you that much more, and you can create a much better product.

A. Meidenbauer: Absolutely. You can – it's cliché, but you see it all over these food cooking channels and stuff, but – make a relationship with your butcher. Well, as silly as it sounds, it's the most important thing. Find a local butcher around your place. Maybe you're not buying the expensive stuff all the time, but you wanna have something really good and enjoyable.

You're gonna go out and ask for, “Hey, what do you got for great, grass-fed beef that's gonna taste much better than the stuff you're buying over the counter at your local supermarket.” And, the butcher's gonna tell you what they got good, what's on special, what they can get you at a great price.

And, you know what? You're gonna reap the rewards when you eat it, 'cause it's gonna taste much better, it's gonna be healthier for you, and that's the important thing.

Glenn Haussman: Right. And, you'll probably sell more, and you could – and your people are gonna come back again, and again. As opposed to just having that boring hotel burger that makes people sad and depressed.

A. Meidenbauer: Yeah. People don't want that. The biggest seller in any hotel and restaurant, room service, operation, whatever, is always the burger.
And, in those places, they can get up to $20.00 for a normal burger. You might as well do it right and give your guests the best that they can eat, so they enjoy it. So, at the end of the day, they are saying, “It was worth that $20.00.” Because that's the worst possible thing you can have, is someone to walk away and say, “It wasn't worth it.”

Listen to this Interview

To see more episodes and podcasts, click here.
You can also subscribe on iTunes.

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