The heat is on and the tantalizing aroma of perfectly grilled steak wafts through the air each weekend. Backyard barbecue buffs around the country rejoice that grilling weather has officially returned as they pull on their “steak swagger” and work to improve their grill game.
For the greater good of said grill game, we sat down with renowned Chef Cortney D. Riley to discuss the world of competitive cooking, the ins and outs of what makes great steak better and how to achieve the coveted steakhouse experience at home. Chef Riley has thrived for over fifteen years in the culinary industry, with experience that ranges from catering, to barbecuing at the American Royal, and all the way to the roles she currently fulfills as a Personal Chef, Food Stylist, host of amazing private food events, and blogger extraordinaire. Chef Riley added the title of Competitive Cook to her belt when she joined the Kansas City Steak Company Cook Team and won her way to her first World Food Championship in 2017. In 2018, she returned once again to lead her own team at the World Food Championship in the Chili category. Today, she is the Head Pastry Chef at Soiree Steak & Oyster House in the Historic 18th & Vine District in Kansas City.
Chef, for the past few years, you have competed at the World Food Championship. How did you get started in the world of Competitive Cooking, and do you plan to compete at the WFC again this year?
Eric Harland started the Kansas City Steak Company Cook Team, and he is the one who got me into food sport. Basically, you compete with chefs from all over the world and all over the country for prizes. It’s essentially one big foodie family. Before Eric introduced me to competitive cooking, I didn’t know there was a whole underground of Food Sport. It’s great to see a lot of the people from American Royal are down at the WFC.
During my first year, I competed in the steak category. My second year, I went back and entered the chili competition and did really well. I don’t know yet what I’ll do this year, whether I’ll assist or compete for something else, but I am working on my competitive edge.
That’s fantastic. We’re excited to see what you’ll do this year and what trophy you’ll bring home. Speaking of competitive edge, we’d love to hear about your favorite steak seasoning.
I really concoct my own. I do love the Kansas City Steak seasoning – it’s such a yummy blend, and I love to add things to it. I often get a local spice blend called KC Yum from the Rivermarket here in Kansas City, and I like to add fresh garlic and a good extra virgin olive oil… Perfect! One of my favorite things to do when I’m at the Rivermarket or a specialty store, is to pick out some cool flavorings. I love to try out new things and play with flavors; it helps me create! One of my favorite spice resources is Savory Spice Company.
Ultimately, I always go with the dish I’m preparing, so it depends on what I’m creating. I’m a big foodie, so I like to do different recipes every time. If I’m cooking Mexican, I may add cumin, or chipotle. I follow the flavors of the meal into the seasoning for the steak.
You definitely have what we like to call “steak swagger.” What Steakhouse Secrets can you share to help us get that perfect steak at home?
You know, I love a ribeye. I love that fattiness and great marbling in a steak, so I always look for that. A bone in ribeye is best, because of the flavor of the bone. Always choose the best cut you can get, and make sure it’s an aged cut. I really like a thick cut, so I can always get that perfect medium rare.
When preparing, always let it marinate in your seasonings for at least thirty minutes before you put it on the grill. When it comes to steakhouse rub seasonings and marinades, less is more. You want to enhance the steak, not the flavoring.
Your grilling technique is so important. A hot grill, or a cast iron skillet, will give you that great crust. I also love to add a little bit of bourbon to my marinade, it seals it and gives that perfect crust and enhances the flavor.
There’s just something about the Steakhouse Experience that we have all come to know and love. How can we achieve that feeling at home, Chef?
First, don’t worry about plating. Plating is always difficult for a steak; think about how your steak is plated at a steakhouse. The steak is by itself, and the sides are served separately. It’s really just about what the steak looks like, so show off your steak! A fresh sprig of rosemary will make the steak your highlight, and make sure to serve with a great knife. You can slice your steak up thin and put it on top of a bed of lettuce or salad, or serve it with a lobster tail – that always makes it pretty!
Next, use a fire grill. A grill is always going to create that incredible steak flavor we crave when we think about steak. Don’t forget to always use fresh herbs and add your favorite sides. A great mashed potato, fresh veggies… There are so many options.
I love steak with a great chimichurri! I make a great Citrus Chimi, with blood orange, a little bit of orange peel, lemon zest, a red wine vinegar, EVOO, fresh garlic, pepper and chili flake, a little pinch of sea salt, fresh cilantro and fresh parsley. Serve it over sliced steak on fresh greens for the perfect summer treat. Add a crusty baguette and you have the perfect picnic in the park. Go listen to some jazz somewhere, mix up your own drink, and you’re good to go!
Put your steak over the top with a great compound butter. Compound butter is a compound of flavors, with fresh herbs, possibly blue cheese and spices. Mix it all together and let it sit overnight. The flavor adds that extra pop at the end. Put it on your hot steak while it’s resting, and BOOM. Flavor explosion.
You mentioned mixing up a favorite drink to serve with your steak – do you have a favorite to share?
My go-to Summer Steak Drink is always a great margarita or sangria. One of my favorites is a Spicy Watermelon Margarita – perfect. I also love to serve steak with flavored teas. Always make sure to pair your drink with your steak and the mood.
Thanks for taking time to sit down with us and share steak secrets, Chef Riley!
There you have it – from the Steak Chef herself! Next, we’d love to hear from you! How do you achieve the perfect Steakhouse Experience when grilling steak at home? Bookmark this page for easy reference, then share your favorite tip or trick in the comments below!