Jamaican Chef in Dubai
Of the hundreds of restaurants and steakhouses operating in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it is a Jamaican chef that has been awarded 'Meat Chef of the Year' at the ProChef Middle East 2014 Competition.
Chef Lij Heron, who works at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria hotel's Ras Al Khaimah Lexington Grill, has successfully mastered the art of dry ageing.
Born and raised in St Andrew, Heron, who has lived in Dubai for the last nine years, studied culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York.
Heron, who became a staple in the kitchens at the Crab 'n Fin Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida, the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall and Sandals Royal Plantation before moving to Dubai, shared some of the secrets that led to his success.
As the only chef who holds the key to the state-of-the-art chillers in his bustling kitchen, he explained that the chillers are set at just above freezing as the finest cuts of rib eye, sirloin, and certified Black Angus beef hang for four weeks awaiting complete perfection. "The temperature needs to between 4-5 degrees celsius, with a humidity of 70-75 per cent. If temperature falls below 2.5 celsius, this will stop the dry ageing process," he explained to Food.
Heron says that the dry-ageing process breaks down the collagen that holds all of the muscle fibres together which can make a steak tough. The process changes beef by two means. First, moisture evaporates from the muscles, and this creates a greater concentration of beef flavour and taste. Second, the beef's natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscles, which leads to a more tender beef.
The process of dry-ageing forms an external 'crust' on the
meat's surface, which is trimmed off when the meat is prepared for cooking. The process complements the natural enzymes in the beef by helping to tenderise and increase the flavour of the meat. The enus Thamnidium, in particular, is known to produce collagenolytic enzymes which greatly contribute to the tenderness and flavour of dry-aged meat, he explained.
Immersing himself in a kitchen comes easily for Heron, owing to the solid culinary foundation he was exposed to when he was young.
"It (cooking) started with my mother, Angela. She had five of us (Taitu, Gabre, Zara, Gabriel, and I) and we each had a day of the week to cook dinner. She would come home early at first to teach us. When she thought we were capable and could handle the meal on our own, then she would let us cook."
He said he was lucky because he cooked on a Saturday and his mom went to Coronation Market on Saturdays, so he had access to the best local produce.
"I developed a love for fresh ingredients from then. I certainly didn't envy my brother Gabriel, who had the Friday night before she went to market," he told Food.
A proud graduate of Excelsior Primary School and the Wolmer's Trust High School for Boys, Heron has also spent time in kitchens in Malaysia and Singapore, gave Food an in depth journey into his perfect grilled steak.
What do the different cuts of meat mean and how they differ (taste and cooking wise)
* Fillet: The most tender cut. Due to less marbling, it doesn't have the flavour of other cuts, but it's still regarded as a quality cut.
* Rib eye: The most flavourful with lots of marbling that makes this a fattier cut.
* Sirloin: A compromise between a fillet and rib eye. It's more flavourful than a fillet and more tender than a rib eye. A firm meat with good flavour.
Chef Heron, who is married to fellow Jamaican media and public relations executive, Kari Alana Heron, has co-authored the award-winning food blog, www.chefandsteward.com, named "Best Overseas Jamaican Blog" in the Jamaica Blog Awards 2012.