Let’s face it: There’s nothing really novel or interesting about the idea of a celebrity chef anymore. You can’t walk 50 yards on the Strip without passing a property with a restaurant owned by some chef you’ve seen on TV. But a celebrity butcher—well, that’s pretty damn unique. In fact, there’s really only one: Pat LaFrieda. The back cover of his new book, Meat: Everything You Need to Know (Atria, $30) features praise from such cooking royalty as Mario Batali, Rachael Ray, Marc Forgione, Martha Stewart, Danny Meyer, Alex Guarnaschelli and Michael White, among others. And his family business, Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors (named for his grandfather, Pat), supplies more than 1,200 restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Miami and Chicago.
Here in Las Vegas, you can sample his products at just two of our finest steakhouses: Old Homestead and Gordon Ramsay Steak. (LaFrieda also supplied the beef to Batali’s Carnevino for its first six months of operation while the restaurant developed its in-house aging program.) When Ramsay opened his restaurant he sang LaFrieda’s praises to the media. And chef Michael Gill of Old Homestead says the restaurant began using LaFrieda’s beef because he supplied their sister restaurant in New York. But, he insists, “Since I have been here, we have done multiple tastings of meat to go up against Pat LaFrieda, and Pat LaFrieda wins hands-down in every single tasting.”
It’s gotten to the point where even restaurant customers know the name. “I was eating in Gordon Ramsay two weeks ago,” LaFrieda says. “And it was really a treat to hear people asking for the steaks by name. I was sitting next to a couple [who were] talking about Pat LaFrieda [meat]. And it was kind of embarrassing, because I’m really a behind-the-scenes person. But here were two people talking about the steaks and how great the caliber of the beef was.”
So what is it about LaFrieda’s beef that has earned such an unparalleled level of respect? “First,” he tells me, “we have to start with breed.” All of his beef is Black Angus. But the way you harvest (or slaughter) the animal is also important. He uses a “harvesting facility” that was built by Temple Grandin, the autistic author, professor and doctor of animal science featured in an eponymous 2010 HBO film about her life. “Being the most humane harvesting facility makes the beef less anxious at time of harvest,” he explains. “And that translates into tenderness.”
In his selection process, LaFrieda only uses cuts graded Prime by the USDA—a grade that’s only awarded to 4 percent of the beef in America. It signifies the highest level of fat marbling recognized by the government, which makes for more flavor. Finally, the meat is dry-aged in a state-of-the-art facility, an expensive process that actually reduces the size of the beef as it tenderizes it and intensifies its flavor. The amount of time spent in the aging room is determined by LaFrieda’s customers.
Given the intricacy of the process, LaFrieda’s beef doesn’t come cheap. Here in town, his steaks range from $55 to upward of $100. LaFrieda admits they aren’t what most people would splurge on regularly. But he believes the restaurants he partners with are the perfect venues for such a luxury product.
“Old Homestead or Gordon Ramsay Steak are not where you’re going when you’re on vacation and want an inexpensive meal,” he says. “It’s someplace where you’re going to celebrate. And you really want it to be something memorable.” As anyone who’s dined at those steakhouses will attest, this celebrity butcher definitely delivers on memories.