Texan brings ‘chili con carne’ culture


Nancy T. Lu,The China Post

Texan chef Jay McCarthy, who has come visiting under the auspices of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, is stimulating local palates with the chili con carne culture of the state and territory that is his home base.

McCarthy’s bag of culinary ingredients — brought all the way from San Antonio, a place famous for “chili queens” — includes a range of modern cultivars or chillies: from the cascabel with seeds which rattle in the pod like “jingle bells” to pasilla with a long, narrow pod of unusual dark brown color and resembling a small, dry raisin. The milder chilli pod, which he also has a supply of, is called ancho. Arbal from northern Mexico is the spiciest of the lot. It is obviously important to use the appropriate variety of chilli on particular recipes. Flavors after all are what spices are all about. Among the spectrum of recipes McCarthy is putting on the menus of the Grand Formosa Taipei’s Cafe Azie as well as the Steak House and Teppanyaki during the American Beef Festival is the Texas red chili with cheddar stars.

“Chili” or “chile” in Texas refers to beef stew, explained McCarthy. It is not to be mistaken for the pepper or fruit itself.

“Chili,” as served by McCarthy is going to be with or without beans. Worth trying, of course, is the soup with beans.

As high-quality American beef is the star of the food festival, McCarthy takes pains to present the meat cuts in ways allowing their maximum relish. For example, he reserves the bigger ribeye cuts for serving in grilled form at the Steak House. The steaks which arrive at the table as part of set menus with salads at Cafe Azie are pan-seared. The chef pays extra attention to the cuts of meat, considering the height and texture of the slices, at the Teppanyaki. To enhance the flavor, beef fillet is rolled in spices and sugar before searing.

The 42-year-old McCarthy began working for the Texas Beef Council as well as the U.S. Meat Export Federation about nine years ago. He, wearing trademark cowboy hat and boots, has been traveling as chef consultant for Texas beef. His work entails holding seminars for chefs and telling them what is trendy in the culinary world. He takes groups on tours of the land where cattle is raised and then transformed into wholesale cuts of ribeye, tenderloin, sirloin and brisket, among others.

Very basic tips homemakers can learn from him include thawing frozen meat properly, meaning removing it from the freezer and putting it in the lower part of the refrigerator a day before cooking it. When cooking beef, make sure that the surface is very hot, he said. Bring the heat down when cooking it slowly later. Once the beef is cooked, let it rest for three minutes before cutting it to allow an even distribution of juices in the meat.

McCarthy studied to be an aerospace engineer. But while going through college, he worked in a restaurant to support himself. Years later, when he learned about careers crashing with the Boeing company during hard times, he decided to pursue a more stable profession. He became the culinary world’s gain. McCarthy, who spent his adolescent years in Jamaica, is the co-author of “Traveling in Jamaica with Knife, Fork and Spoon.”

The American Food Festival will run until June 30. Call tel. 2523-8000 to make inquiries and reservations.