Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Jamaican Chef in Dubai

Published:Thursday | November 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A tasty looking dish prepared by Chef Lij Heron using his famous cuts. - Contributed
Chef Heron on the job. - Contributed
Lij Heron at the Lexington Grill Waldorf Astoria.
Jamaican Waldorf Astoria chef, Lij Heron, based in Dubai, awarded for his famed dry-aged beef. - Contributed Photo
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Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

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, who
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.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com

How to cook the perfect grilled steak in four steps

  • Choose the right meat. The most important step is choosing the
    correct cut and grade of meat. There are three grades to select from;
    choose a good quality cut that is tender and has the most marbling and
    flavour. The ideal cut for grilled steak is fillet, rib eye, sirloin,
    T-bone or Porterhouse. If you are unsure, then fillet is always a good
    crowd pleaser. My personal favourite is rib eye, it has the most
    flavour.
  • Season the steak with a little sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and olive oil or butter. Apply to both sides of the steak.
  • Grill the steak making sure that the grill is hot. Temperature should be between 160°C and 180°C .
  • Rest the steak. Do not forget this step. Many steaks are spoilt if it
    is not rested. By letting the steak rest, it allows the juices to be
    redistributed evenly throughout the steak which makes it taste a lot
    better. Finish with a dab of butter.