Talking Meat with Seven Beef Chef Scott Emerick and Owner Eric Banh
Welcome back to The Carnivore’s Dilemma, a column by Jason Price that features recommendations on how to prepare and where to eat meat from Seattle chefs that venture well beyond steak and burgers. This month’s subject – Eric Banh’s Seven Beef in Seattle’s Central District.
The one thing our town hasn’t had until recently is a restaurant focused specifically on using every part of the cow. Sure, there are places like John Howie Steak that serve many variations on a core set of cuts. And Renee Erickson’s newest entry, Bateau, gives diners yet another option to let their inner carnivore go medieval on some beef with their grass-fed whole animal butchery program.
Now enter Seven Beef on to the Seattle restaurant scene. Owned by Eric Banh of Monsoon and Ba Bar renown, with Seattle native Scott Emerick manning the pass – it’s the only place in town that brings in whole sides of beef and focuses on using the whole animal in-house. I recently had a chance to chat with Banh and Emerick on what makes Seven Beef special and about its focus on using locally sourced grass-fed beef. Here’s what they had to say…
Why did you get involved in food?
Emerick – I’ve always had restaurant jobs. When I was going to college I reached a point where I was deciding what I wanted to do. I was enjoying restaurants more than anything else and decided to stick with it. So I went to culinary school in Paris at Ferrandi.
I stayed in France after I graduated – which feels like a lifetime ago. I worked at Prunier in Paris and then went to Breton for a bit, then in Provence for a blip.
How did you end up back in the States and connecting with Eric?
Emerick – I came back to Seattle and kind of worked around – I’ve been a bit of a kitchen gypsy. Then I spent some time in Washington D.C. at Nora. I’ve known Eric for maybe 12, 15 years.
Banh – I met Scott at Le Pichet and I was cooking at Monsoon at that time. I knew he always loved champagne – but back then it was cheap. Chefs can’t afford to drink champagne now!
We kept in contact and he helped me out at Baguette Box. When I found out he was in DC I called and let him know about my concept here. The time was right and the concept a good match with his French background and the program we have here.
What is different about Seven Beef vs. other ‘steak houses’ in Seattle?
Emerick – I think, not to speak for Eric, but it was his concept to have a whole beef program. We started talking about a creating a simple restaurant utilizing the whole cow with a wood-fired grill that was also affordable.
Banh – The key is affordability. The idea all along is to sell the whole cow. Everything else is built around that. Cow and vegetables. Hopefully there are some compelling vegetable dishes to eat with your chunk of beef.
What kind of wood are you using?
Emerick – We use a mix of oak and maple. Fruit woods good for smoking but not really for wood fire cooking. They are good to use for finishing but not as regular burning wood and they aren’t that sustainable.
So why go with grass-fed beef vs. corn-fed or corn finished even?
Banh – To us, this was a given. Cows cannot digest corn and grain on their own. Big, commercial farms exist because it’s cheap and easy. They have to give the cows antibiotics because they can’t digest corn.
Emerick – There’s definitely less fat on these cows but I feel that part of our success is that we’ve been able to age the beef in-house which really benefits the meat. If you let grass-fed beef age a bit, it changes the dynamic and flavor significantly.
I feel like the cows we have received thus far have been a lot better than what I’ve seen at local markets like PCC and Whole Foods. We haven’t had one complaint about toughness or anything like that.
Tell us about the traditional Seven-course Vietnamese beef dinner
Banh – Beef is a luxury protein in Vietnam. We don’t have a lot of land and the weather is so hot so the grass becomes very dry and harsh for any cow to eat. When you eat beef in Vietnam these days it’s all imported from Australia or New Zealand. And the beef they eat costs more than here! It’s always been traditionally a luxury item.
The way to describe the Vietnamese seven-course beef dinner –sausages! Five of the courses are sausages and another is grilled beef with salad – usually with top sirloin. The last course is vinegar beef for which we use eye of round.
A cow is a very large animal. How creative do you need to get to use it all?
Banh – Well, the primal cuts only account for 25-30% of the cow. The rest is bones, scrap or so-called ‘ground beef parts’. So what do you do with it? To be creative, Scott and his team started doing R&D at Ba Bar before we opened and were able to turn those cuts traditionally used for ground beef into something more profitable. We were able to start using cuts like Zabuton, Oyster, Teres Major.
Where are your ranchers located and why do you work with them?
Emerick – We buy our beef through a fellow that owns a company called Heritage Meats in Rochester, WA – owned by Tracy Smaciarz. He taught us how to butcher and has helped us from the start. He buys cows from probably 6-10 local ranchers. Right now, our beef is being raised in Curtis, WA – just southwest of Olympia.
If one thing on the menu – what would you recommend?
Banh – The most consistently flavorful thing on the menu is the Cote de Boeuf (at $135 for 48 oz.). But if I don’t have 3 other friends then I can’t get it. So I prefer the Coulotte or the Zabuton.
Emerick – I would say to try a couple of different cuts of beef. It’s fun to compare and contrast and two steaks side by side will be satisfying on different levels. Also, we do a braised belly that is beautiful.
Who are some of the top chefs in Seattle now?
Emerick – for me, my favorite restaurant in Seattle is La Medusa in Columbia City.
Banh –I think Jerry (Corso) does an amazing job at Bar del Corso on Beacon Hill. Also, late night at Palace Kitchen. Where can you go that late at night in this town and get such a good meal for 14 years now?
What kind of music is playing in your kitchen during prep?
SE – We have records here – it’s all vinyl all the time. Pretty eclectic here. But I would say most kitchens are probably 90% rap these days.
What is your karaoke song?
Banh – I used to do karaoke a lot. It’s been a long time but I love Wham! Scott always makes fun of me for loving them but I usually listen to them. It would have to be “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”.
* Portions of this story were originally published on Eater Seattle.
** All photos with the exception of the menu are credited to Geoffrey Smith.