Author Archives: The Classic at Roanoke

Chef Charles Beef Tour Day Four

Thursday, January 19

Kane processing plant sign

On our final day we visited Kane, one of the biggest beef producing plants in South Texas – since 1949. The Kane plant is a Temple Grandin design and the cattle are treated very well. If a truck driver, loader, or ANYONE mistreats an animal in any way they are removed from the business. Cows arrive daily, and they’re never there live more than 24 hours.

Temple Grandin movie poster

The Kane plant has an autographed Temple Grandin movie poster in the office.

This plant takes the cattle from live on the hoof all the way to cryovaced and boxed in about 36–38 hours (beef must hang to chill for 24 hours before cryovacing). It takes about 6-8 hours to break down the meat, and Kane processes about 725 head a day. I was amazed to learn that in order to sustain our demand for beef, the US butchers about 300,000 head of cattle each week!

I grew up in cattle country and I spent time with high school FFA in sheep, cattle, and hog slaughterhouses. I am amazed at the changes that have happened in the industry since those days! This place couldn’t have been more different than what I remember. It was very cool to see how much has evolved for the well-being of the cattle, and also the processing itself. Even the safety has changed so much from when I was young. It was amazing.

The group

We stopped at a gas station/Rudy’s barbeque in San Antonio on the way home to take this shot of the whole group.

Chef Charles Beef Tour Day Three

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Graham Land and Cattle Co

Today we toured the Graham Land and Cattle Co. feedlot in Gonzalez, TX. It was a muddy mess, but lots of fun. The cows here first get a 6 – 8 month run on grasslands, then they start on feed once per day while they continue to graze. Then they move on to twice-a-day grain feedings and they get a little more each day. They spend 80 – 120 days on the feed. The Graham Feedlot has about 30,000 head of cattle at any given time, and they ship about 700 – 800 out each week.

Cattle feed

This cattle feed is sort of like corn flakes.

Moving cattle feed

Cattle feed machines

The folks here were quick to point out that the cows actually have a lot of space but they are very curious so whenever anybody comes to take their picture they all crowd up to the fence and it looks like they’re really crammed in there. But they’re not.

Cattle in pasture

Cattle on pasture

Cattle in mud, Chef Charles Beef Tour Day 3

Told you it was muddy!

Cattle in feed lot

Cattle getting their feed


Evening in Corpus Christi

This evening we had dinner at the Republic of Texas Bar & Grill In the Omni Hotel in Corpus Christi. What a great view of the bay, overlooking the USS Lexington naval ship! The restaurant is multi-level and very big. It was modern, well-lighted and spacious with plenty of room to move, and enough space on the table for all of the food and accompaniments. The staff was invisible and everywhere at the same time – amazing! Great presentation and a definite WOW factor several times – a tomahawk ribeye served in a cast iron skillet, and different shapes and textures of plates throughout the meal. Wood cutting boards for appetizer, dessert sampler and charcuterie. Jams, mustards, and pickled items were all house-made with local ingredients.

Tomahawk steak in skillet


We enjoyed a 45-day dry aged wagyu tomahawk “cote de boeuf” with rosemary garlic potatoes, baby carrots, shallots, asparagus, and sauteed mushrooms.

Tomahawk steak cut up and served

The tomahawk was brought to the table in a cast iron skillet, and then cut up and served.

Hash browns

Idaho hash browns cooked in a cast iron skillet 3.5 inches thick (Hash browns on steroids!)

Chef Charles Beef Tour Day Two

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

We enjoyed breakfast in Austin Tuesday morning and then went on to College Station to learn about the Texas cattle industry and production systems. There’s a lot to learn about this industry and we covered a ton today!

We got started right out with a class by Dr. Ron Gill, Professor and Extension Livestock Specialist at Texas A&M. We learned about the history of American cattle, from when they first came to the Americas around the time of Christopher Columbus, through where we are now.

Dr. Gill went over different breeds, from the most common to rare breeds, and how they’ve been bred for different living conditions, disease resistance, and environment. We learned the difference between cattle that thrive here in Texas and those that do well in northern states and Canada.

American Aquarium Album

Then we went on to learn all about grading steaks: standard, select, choice and prime. A cow has to be less than 30 months old to be considered choice or prime. Older cows are used more for dog food, etc. Cows are first grass-fed and then they move on to silage, corn, and various grains for their last 80 – 120 days before slaughter. They “fatten up” in stages: first they build internal fat, then they get their back fat, and finally the last stage is when marbling in the muscles happens. A solely grass-fed cow can’t develop the marbling that a grain-fed cow does.

Marbling, Maturity and Quality Grade

Another cool thing we did today was participate in a tasting panel. We tried 7 kinds of steaks and evaluated them for juiciness, muscle fiber, connective tissue amount, beef identifiability (beefy flavor), fat (taste and feel), green (plant/freshness), musky or earthiness, and sour.

Tasting Worksheet Tasting Notes

We participated in a cutting demo where we broke down a whole side of beef. First came the forefront and all the steaks were portioned out. We went through the muscles to find steaks “hidden” inside the bigger pieces, like the flat iron, which is way inside the chuck on the shoulder. Then went through the ribs to get ribeyes, tomahawk ribeyes, and more.

Finally we made it to the back end of the cow and got the tenderloins and strips. You can’t get all the cuts of beef out of a single cow. If you want porterhouse and t-bone, then you sacrifice the option of a whole tenderloin or a whole strip. The industry is constantly evaluating demand to determine what cuts to make.

In the US, about 300,000 cows are butchered every week, and we export about 17%, including a lot of hide and intestine to South America and offal (heart, kidney, etc) to Asian markets.

Butchering beef

Dinner Time

Dalton Domino

Dalton Domino

After a day of education we saw the grammy-nominated band American Aquarium and also Dalton Domino at The Tap in College Station. Fun fact: Dalton’s grandmother lives near The Classic and is a frequent guest! We enjoyed meeting the bands and talking with them after the show.

American Aquarium

Oh — and we ate too! At a place called Christopher’s, a restaurant in a very old house built in 1913. They have restored to outside and modernized the dining areas and kitchen inside, as well as added on some banquet/meeting space. The decor was french and very beautiful. The food, again, looked fresh and ready to jump off the white plates. They served warm, fresh bread with a ball of pesto surrounded by olive oil in a small bowl. I liked that. Each entree had its own personality, being paired with something that matched the protein. I really could feel the thought put into every dish. All of the staff that we came in contact with was polite and professional, and they were all wearing the same style shirt, pressed and looking sharp.

Our group talked about what we each thought of our day, what we learned, and how we could incorporate it into our work. It was a very pleasant dinner.

House fillet with crawfish tails

I had the House Filet: an 8 oz prime filet on creamed spinach and house potatoes, topped with fried crawfish tails and bearnaise sauce on a port wine demi glace, with an added crab-stuffed shrimp.

Caesar salad carbonara

Caesar salad carbonara

Sticky toffee pudding with Guiness ice cream

Sticky toffee pudding with Guinness ice cream

Chef Charles’ Beef Tour Day One

I got to spend four days with the Texas Beef Council and a great group of chefs, distributors, educators, and salesmen, learning about the Texas beef industry. It was great to engage in conversations with people who had so many different points of view! I’ll be writing a little about each day of the trip.

Monday, January 16, Austin, TX

I left Roanoke on Monday afternoon and flew to Austin along with Stefon Rishel of Texas Bleu and Michael Lee of Urban Rio. When we arrived in Austin we got settled in, and then met up with the rest of the crowd for a big evening. We got to see Dale Watson sing, which was amazing, and we were treated to some pretty good food and beverages at a place called Cannon + Belle.

Dale Watson

Dale Watson

Cannon + Belle had a trendy Austin vibe in their decor, table setup, and artistic plate presentations. The food on the stark white plates really popped. It was awesome to see Texas/local food on the menu and taste the freshness. The chef said he gets produce 5 days a week, and you could tell! Service was professional and unobtrusive, knowledgeable and polite. Their menu lists what items they get locally, and where they’re sourced. It was a really cool place! Today all I can tell you is the food was great. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about beef!

herb-smoked venison with root veggies and a Texas tempranillo demi

My dinner at Cannon + Belle: herb-smoked venison with root veggies and a Texas tempranillo demi

Board of meats at Cannon + Belle

Board of meats

Board of desserts

Board of desserts

Pastrami-cured beef rib

Pastrami-cured beef rib

Francis’ Wine Country Tour 2014, Day Two

On the 2nd day of this incredible wine-centric experience, we traveled farther north to Paso Robles, where our 1st visit was to a very interesting and exciting tasting at Field Recordings Winery. These wines are creatively blended using very uncommon varietals like Tannat, and a Portuguese varietal called Touriga Nacional. We were treated to a very entertaining tasting through the portfolio with the winemaker, Andrew Jones, an animated and quite talented person. He explained his new concept of producing and selling wine in barrel kegs, much like beer is served. This new trend seemed to be taking off for larger chain restaurants. Andrew’s winemaking techniques created bold and non-traditional styled blends that are bright, complex and well balanced. I was most impressed by their flagship and best seller, Fiction Red. This wine was rich with dark fruit, lively acids and nicely framed tannins. It consist of 53% cabernet sauvignon, 20% petite verdot, 14% cab franc and finishes with 13% tannat. We also discovered that Andrew was not only a winemaker, but is one of Paso Robles most sought-after viticulturalists. He regularly consults for many of the area wineries. His French-trained knowledge of growing techniques and his innovative, obscure ideas are very well respected among his industry colleagues.

We were treated to a parting gift of Cane and Fable 373 Cabernet Sauvignon, a joint venture between Mr. Jones and Curt Schlachlin, winemaker at Sans Liege. This wine is very indicative of big, heavily extracted Cabernet Sauvignon from the Paso Robles region. We graciously accepted the gift and decided to bring the bottle back to Texas and enjoy it at a future date. After more research (we drank the 2nd bottle), it is now available on The Classic’s wine list.

Bianchi Winery and Tasting Room

Bianchi

Our next stop was a beautiful winery called Bianchi. We were treated to a private tour and tasting by the winemaker, Tom Lane. The property and the facilities were stunning. We were met in the tasting room by Tom and started with a sample of Bianchi’s 2011 Moscato. This bright vibrant Moscato had lively flavors of orange blossom and kumquat which was a refreshing cleanse of the palate after the big red wines that we just finished on our last tasting. The tour began with an informative stroll to the vines. There Tom treated me to some scientific and technical processes of determining how to measure the sugar content (brix are the units of measurement) of the grapes that were on the vine. He picked a single grape from the uppermost cluster and squeezed the juice onto this kazoo-looking apparatus, called a refractometer. This meter had a scale that went from zero to 100 brix. This reading, along with the acidity level(ph), are the indicators to the winemaker that the fruit has ripened to the desired levels and is ready for harvesting. This process is performed frequently, by Tom, to all of the 20 planted acres on the property, which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache, Petite Syrah and Moscato. Total production for the winery is about 8,000 cases, 1500 of which are the Cabernet Sauvignon that we currently serve at The Classic.

Bianchi Winery front counter

Tom, Francis and Jen at Bianchi Winery

As the tour continued, we learned about some sophisticated equipment, like the bladder press. This piece of machinery is used to press the juice out of the grapes. They are placed in a huge metal cylinder that has a ballon-like material lined on the inside. Air is then pumped into the tank expanding the balloon and gently pressing the grapes until the juice is extracted. Pressing is done several times until the desired richness is attained. Moving to the barrel room was our next stop. Here we tasted chardonnay that was being pumped from a tank and headed to the bottling room. We also got the opportunity to taste petite syrah from the barrel, and learned how they use a variety of yeast strains to start and stop the fermentation process. Our tour ended by visiting the lab where they perform a variety of tests on the wines to ensure that they are balanced and ready for bottling. We enjoyed our visit and the learning experience that Tom and the entire Bianchi staff afforded us. We also REALLY enjoyed the “HAPPY” state of mind we had achieved, all by noon. Wooohooo!!!
Stay tuned for more.
“Cheers to liquid love!”

Francis’ Wine Country Tour 2014, Day One

As many of you know, I take an annual wine trip to various areas of California. This year, I was very fortunate to visit Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles. This was my 1st time seeing Southern California. WOW!!! It was as beautiful as I was told. I traveled with my favorite wine companion, personal Chef and best friend, Jennifer Stiver. We had the priviledge of lodging at one of my guest and friends’ home, John and Mary Pat. The hospitality and generosity that were provided were far beyond 5 Star. Everything from warm and comfortable bedding to the thoughtful picnic lunches that were packed for us every morning before we were awake, INCREDIBLE!!!

Francis in the vineyards

Francis in the Vineyards

Our first venture was to the small, quaint town of Solvang. There we visited the Peter Stolpman Winery and were given a private tour by the winemaker and President, Peter Stolpman Jr. and his black Labrador, Baron von Stolpman. The tour included an educational stroll through the vines of this plush 152 acre vineyard, vine samples and in-depth information about the growing methods and the terroir of this newly designated AVA (American Viticultural Areas) called Ballard Canyon. We were also treated to an extraordinary tour of Peter Stolpman Sr’s dream home. This 12,000 sq ft Italian Villa was breathtaking!!! Keep your eyes out for a possible January visit to The Classic from Mr. Stolpman.

Stolpman Estate on Hill

Stolpman Estate

Next, we arrived in the beautiful rural town of Los Olivos to have a tasting at The Byron Tasting Room of Jackson Family Wines. We were enthusiastically greeted by Bird, the cute little Jack Russell that welcomed everyone. This turned out to be Pinot Noir heaven!!! There were 9 different styles of pinot noir offered from all over the California Central coast. Most of these offerings were 200 cases or less made, with the lone exception being the 2011 Santa Maria Valley, which is about a 2000 case production. Each of the wines were extremely well crafted and had unique characteristics. The most intriguing of all was the 2011 Monument. The fruits used in this wine are the premier barrels produced on the Nielson Estate in Santa Maria Valley. This rich pinot has flavors of dark blackberry and ripe plum, a silky mouthfeel and pleasant, but not overpowering, smokey finish.

BarnWe were so impressed with the warm feel of this little village of tasting rooms, that we decided to picnic in a little park across the street from the Byron room. We asked some local folks where we could find a sandwich shop nearby. Much to our delight, there was a small deli just around the corner that made gourmet sandwiches and specialty meats. We asked the young man behind the counter for his recommendation and he offered us a turkey melt with spiced provolone cheese, made locally, on rye bread that was not on the menu of the day, but was his favorite.

Our afternoon would not have been complete without some bubbly!!! As we walked over to the cooler, there was a single bottle of 2003 Roederer Brut Reserve that magically appeared like manna from heaven. Our day had just taken an unimaginably awesome turn for the better. If I had to rate this day, I would say that this was the BEST 1st day ever of all my California trips.

Stay tuned for more stories of my exciting wine journey.

Cheers to “Liquid Love”!!!