Kitchen confidence

Executive chef tutors novice in the not-so dark secrets of the perfect holiday meal

Written by Joe Stumpe | Photography by Visual Fusion Photographics

Heather Denker wants to one-up her husband in the kitchen this holiday season, and now she knows how.

At the invitation of Splurge! Magazine, Denker, who works for the Greater Wichita Partnership, visited the Cargill Innovation Center in downtown Wichita for a one-on-one session with executive chef Janet Bourbon. It was a rare opportunity for a home cook, and Denker was eager, but also a little apprehensive.

Denker describes herself as about a 3 on a cooking scale of 1 to 10 because her husband, Tony, handles that task most of the time. He's a great cook, she said. The Denkers, who have two young sons, recently moved into a new home with a big kitchen, and Heather would love to beat her husband at his own game.

The main course she's learning about from Bourbon is a 6-pound boneless KC strip roast from Sterling Silver, exclusively available from Dillons, and big enough to feed 10 to 12 people.

A lot of nervousness

I have put a roast in a crockpot and that's about the entirety of it, Denker says when asked if she's ever cooked a cut of beef that big. When there are a lot of steps, there's a lot of nervousness. Fortunately, there are not a lot of steps required with this recipe, as Denker is about to find out. But first, Bourbon introduces her to the roast, which if carved up would produce five or six thick KC strips.

If I'm cooking for a big group of people, I personally think it's the most delicious, Bourbonsays. It's got a huge beefy taste and a great bite, and it's still really juicy, really tender.

Bourbon starts by seasoning the roast on all sides with kosher salt (she swears by the Diamond Crystal brand) and freshly cracked pepper. A purist inthis regard, Bourbon says anything more would interfere with the flavor of the beef. She also shows Denker how to tie up the roast with butcher's twine, a step designed to hold cuts of meat together in a more uniform shape. Bourbon notes that this step is optional with a beef loin roast, which holds together pretty well on its own thanks to a cap of flavor-begetting fat across the top.

Seems less messy

Bourbon explains that she'll use a cooking method called reverse searing on the roast. Traditionally, in order to produce a tasty, attractive crust on large pieces of meat, it is first seared in hot oil over a stovetop burner, then transferred to the oven to finish cooking. Bourbon's method is to first roast the meat in the oven at a fairly low heat  225 degrees  then crank that up to 475 degrees for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Denker loves the idea. It seems like it would be less messy, without all the oil popping around, she said. And I don't have pans that big for searing anyway. Before placing the roast in the oven, Bourbon positions it fat side up on a baking sheet with a rack, to let hot air flow all around it for even cooking. She checks the roast two hours later, using an instant read thermometer; about 20 minutes later, she finds that it has reached the desired internal temperature of 120 degrees. She pulls it out to rest for 10 minutes, turning up the oven temperature to 475 degrees (or 425 degrees for a convection oven) in the meantime. finally, she puts the meat back in the oven for 10 minutes to brown the outside.

Time to rest

After removing the roast for the last time, Bourbon lets it rest another 5 minutes before slicing. That step, she notes, is extremely important, since it lets juices pushed to the center by searing make their way back to the rest of the meat. Carve up the roast too quickly, and those juices run out onto the cutting board, rather than stay in the meat where they belong.

Reverse searing works as advertised, by the way  the sliced meat has a beautiful pink interior and a thin, flavor-packed outer edge. Bourbon's approach offers one other advantage. It allows the cook a couple of hours to take care of other cooking duties or anything else that needs doing.

Bourbon walks Denker through the preparation of a couple of side dishes that could be made during that time, including a decadent French version of scalloped potatoes and a medley of green beans and roasted carrots.

What impresses Denker is the simplicity of the dishes. Instead of long lists of ingredients, she said, Each food stands on its own. That is a huge relief I didn't expect when I came here.

Time for wine

Denker and Bourbon have time to discuss one more mutual interest: wine. Denker says she's more of a Cab fan but thinks a pinot noir might go nicely with the roast. Bourbon agrees and offers two suggestions of her own  a red zinfandel to stand up to the beef or maybe even a young Beaujolais.

Denker, sitting down to enjoy the feast, thinks she can pull it off herself. Confident she'll soon be one-upping her husband, she might just invite her new neighbors over to witness the feat.

I feel like we are becoming part of the tight-knit group on our street and would love to do a small neighborhood gathering, Denker said.

Sterling Silver striploin roast


 1 Sterling Silver Striploin Roast, 5-6 pounds each
 Kosher salt, as needed (about 1 - 1  tablespoons)
 Freshly ground black pepper, as needed (about 1-2 teaspoons)


 1 rimmed baking sheet with a rack
 1 instant read thermometer


1. Let the roast sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes before cooking.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 225F (175F if using a convection oven.)
3. Using paper towels, dry the surface of the meat thoroughly.
4. Optional: you may tie the striploin with butcher's twine. Tie at 1-2 inch intervals.
5. Season the meat on all sides generously with kosher and pepper.
6. Put the meat on a rimmed baking sheet with a rack. The rack helps with airflow in the oven and a more even cook.
7. Place the meat in the oven.
8. After 2 hours, check the internal temperature by sticking the instant read thermometer into the center of the meat.
9. When the meat has reached an internal temperature of 120F, remove from oven and let the meat rest for about 10 minutes. If you tied the roast, cut off the twine.
10. Raise the oven temperature to 475F (425F convection oven) When oven is up to temperature, place the roast back in the oven for 10 minutes to brown the outside.
11. Remove from oven and rest for 5 10 minutes. Cut into slices and serve.

French scalloped potatoes (pommes dauphinoise)

Serves 10


 3 pounds baking potatoes (about 6 large)
 1-2 cloves garlic
 2 teaspoons kosher salt
 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
 Food release spray
 3-4 cups heavy cream


1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Peel potatoes and thinly cut into 1/8 inch thick slices, using a Japanese mandoline.
3. Place potatoes in a large bowl.
4. Mince garlic finely and mash with salt.
5. Add the garlic to the potatoes.
6. Sprinkle the potatoes with white pepper and nutmeg. Toss gently but thoroughly, so that the potatoes are coated with the salted garlic and seasonings.
7. Warm the cream over medium heat until almost boiling.
8. Spray a 2 3 quart baking dish with food release spray.
9. Layer the potatoes evenly in the baking dish. Carefully pour in the hot cream. The cream should just cover the potatoes.
10. Place dish on a sheet pan and cover with foil. Bake until potatoes are almost tender, about 1 hour.
11. Remove foil and pour any remaining cream over potatoes. Continue to bake, uncovered, until cream has been absorbed by potatoes and top is golden, 30 to 40 minutes.

Green beans with mustard butter

8 portions


 2 pounds green beans, cooked in salted boiling water until just tender and drained
 cup unsalted butter
 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
 Kosher salt and black pepper to taste


1. Melt butter and stir in mustard.
2. Toss over hot beans.
3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Roasted carrots

8 portions


 2 pounds carrots, peeled and ends removed
 Olive oil, as needed
 2-3 teaspoons Kosher salt
 teaspoon black pepper
 teaspoon dried thyme
 teaspoon smoked paprika


1. Cut carrots into 1  - 2 inch lengths. Place into a large mixing bowl.
2. Toss carrots with enough olive oil to coat.
3. Combine remaining ingredients. Sprinkle over carrots. Toss again so that the carrots are evenly coated with the seasonings.
4. Place carrots in a single layer on 2 half sheet pans. Using 2 sheet pans ensures better browning.
5. Roast in a 400F oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender and caramelized.

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