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Peter Vauthy: Interview & Dinner

King Crabcakes at Red The Steakhouse, photo courtesy of RedChef Peter Vauthy, photo courtesy of Red The SteakhousePasta with White Truffles at Red, photo courtesy of Red The SteakhousePastrami Slider at Red The Steakhouse, photo courtesy of Red The SteakhouseCereal Milk Ice Cream at Red, photo courtesy of Red The SteakhouseRed's Dining Room & Wine, photo by lee klein

Peter Vauthy is an energetic New York native, a chef who wears his love for his work on his sleeve. Ask him about King Crab, which was in season during the time I visited Red The Steakhouse, and he’ll tell you about the time he worked on a fishing boat in Alaska, about his purveyor in Alaska, about the process of sending the crabs to Florida, the grading of crabs, the flavor, how it’s presented on the menu…

This is all good: As a writer, you want your interview subject to be the talkative sort. And as a diner, you want your chef to be crazy-ass passionate about what he does. Vauthy gives you this and more. He worked his way up through the ranks at the Cleveland branch of Red, and its sister brasserie Moxie. He was eventually executive chef of the Cleveland Red and took the same title here when it opened in the South-of-Fifth area in 2008.

“Cleveland has a thriving food scene now, but once I moved from Cleveland to South Beach, I went ‘I’m never going back there.’”

I spoke with the irrepressible chef a few weeks ago in Red’s swank dining room. Afterwards, I sat down and enjoyed a King Crab cake; pappardelle with white truffles and cream; homemade pastrami (on my insistence); and “cereal milk” ice cream. It was all delicious, and, significantly, it wasn’t steak. One of the things Vauthy likes to stress is that Red The Steakhouse does not excel solely in steaks. My takeaway from the talk was that Vauthy was obsessed with getting the very best ingredients, and just how special many of the non-meat ingredients here are.

My questions were few, far between, and not especially inspiring, so I’m leaving them out altogether and just going with Chef Vauthy’s quotes.

Chef Peter Vauthy, photo courtesy of Red The Steakhouse

STEAKS: “When we came to Miami, our whole thing was: What are we going to do to separate ourselves from all the New York steak houses? And that was to find the best steak we could get. I went all over, out to ranches, farms…and when I found Certified Angus Beef Prime, that top one percent of all U.S.D.A.- graded cattle, I said, ‘That’s it. We’re done. Let’s start from there, and then elevate the rest of our food to that level.’"

“Red is the number one seller of Certified Angus Beef in the world. During the year we’ll go through something like 40,000 pounds of steaks. Which seems ridiculous.”

“The way the neighborhood has changed, we’ve become more of a neighborhood spot. People come in here and want to have our chicken, or our seafood or something to eat and go.”

Red's Dining Room & Wine, photo by lee klein

THE QUEST FOR THE BEST PRODUCT POSSIBLE: "I’ve developed a lot of good relationships with purveyors. If I want to run escargot, I call my crazy escargot lady who lives in the mountains of California and she’ll say, ‘How do you want me to finish them, with fresh parsley or basil?’ Then she harvests them and ships them to me. We get pomegranate juice from her. It comes in and looks black. I’ll never drink POM-Wonderful again."

"That’s the fun part of my job: Finding those people who are a little bit off that are doing something at a super high level. Like the guy I get my mushrooms from, in the Pacific Northwest, he’s been foraging mushrooms along the American-Canadian border for 15 years. He gets in mushrooms you’ve never seen before. Last week I got in some Cotton Candy mushrooms, and the finish tastes like cotton candy. It’s crazy. We have lobster mushrooms that when they come in they look like lobsters. They’re meaty and delicious…I’m on the phone from the minute I get up in the morning to someone in a different time zone, bringing in whatever I can to make Red a little bit different."

King Crabcakes at Red The Steakhouse, photo courtesy of Red

KING CRAB: "I never understood what the big deal was with King Crab. Then I worked on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska. The first time I tasted King Crab fresh, I was in love. ‘Whoa, so this is what King Crab is all about!’

"I was in Cleveland, working at Moxie, our bistro restaurant, as chef de cuisine, and I started calling my old friends up in Alaska, maybe 12, 13 years ago, and I started dealing with them, getting in fresh Alaskan King Crab. So every season I’m on the phone with these guys. The third week of September we start bringing in the crab – which is the brown King Crab – and then red crab comes in the same day as stone crabs, October 15. For me it’s one of the finest things on the planet. It screams the whole ‘farm-to-table’ thing, because it can only be fresher if you’re in Alaska. We’ve been getting in 160 pounds a week for the past three weeks."

SALMON:"All our salmon is wild, not farm-raised. People ask me how I can get in fresh wild salmon during December, January, February, and it’s because my mushroom guy has a relationship with the local Indians, who can fish as much as they want, so I get fish in from them."

BURRATA:" We bring in fresh burrata that’s phenomenal, the best I’ve ever had outside of being in Italy when some guy was rolling it up and putting it on a plate. Since that experience I’ve never had one that comes close. Ever."

STEVEN SEAGAL: "We’re not here for the scene, we’re not here for the celebrities – even though we get our share. Steven Seagal has been in here about four times in the last three weeks. He probably put on about 100 pounds."

Pasta with White Truffles at Red, photo courtesy of Red The Steakhouse

PAPPARDELLE WITH WHITE TRUFFLES AND CREAM: “Today’s pasta is pappardelle. Tomorrow we’re serving cavatelli. So some poor schmuck is back there rolling out cavatelli right now so it can run tomorrow with the white truffles.”

“Do luxury ingredients so people can afford to have them so they’ll want to come back and have them again. There’s no reason to mark things up twenty times just because you can.”

Pastrami Slider at Red The Steakhouse, photo courtesy of Red The Steakhouse

PASTRAMI: “We got a some cuts of meat in – brisket, tri-tip -- and I said, ‘Let’s make pastrami out of it and see how it comes out.’ It’s still USDA Certified Angus Prime, so we did it and it blew my mind. It’s on our charcuterie board. We also make our own bresaola. The rest come from this incredible charcuterie company that was based in Brooklyn, but now, like everyone, has been chased out by rents and are located in Jersey.”

Cereal Milk Ice Cream at Red, photo courtesy of Red The Steakhouse

CEREAL MILK ICE CREAM:"This is Momofuku-style. I really respect David Chang, he's true to his restaurants, he's always there. His original one was corn flakes. So I said, 'All right, let's see what we can do.' I went to the store and bought like eight boxes of breakfast cereal. And I was in my chef jacket, too The girl at the counter was looking at me, so I said, 'It's an experiment.' I strain out the cereal part after it soaks, and fortify the base with cream. The cereal milk ice cream flavors are Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Puffs and Cap‘N Crunch.