Story of a Dish

Flay Mignon with Saint Agur Blue Bearnaise

By / Photography By Vince Miezejewski | February 23, 2018
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When Ariane Duarte earned the chance to go one-on-one against celebrity chef Bobby Flay, the chef-owner of Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona chose filet mignon as her weapon of choice for their on-air culinary duel. Competing on a December 2015 episode of the Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay, she made a dressed up version of America’s beloved duet—steak and potatoes. After the chefs engaged in 45 minutes of intense cooking and good-natured sniping, the judges tasted each dish and chose Duarte’s Filet Mignon with Bleu Cheese Béarnaise over Flay’s Filet with Red and Green Chili Salsas. To commemorate the victory, she renamed her dish Flay Mignon, and it is now a favorite on her menu.

“When you are asked to compete against Bobby Flay, you want to kick his ass with something really great, because he can cook anything,” says Duarte. “For me, filet is very ordinary and plain. So, I always like to take it and just kick it up—give it that wow factor.” Topping filet with Béarnaise sauce was a classic choice. Adding blue cheese, she successfully gambled, elevated the Béarnaise—and the dish—to another level.

Flay Mignon begins with center-cut filets. Duarte purchases her filets from Union-based D’Artagnan because the specialty food company provides her with the quality and uniformity of size that allows her to consistently deliver perfectly cooked, meltingly tender steaks to her customers. In an earlier version of this dish, Duarte began by rubbing the filets with roasted garlic—a step she recommends but now skips in her restaurant because of allergy concerns.

Because they are so mildly flavored, filets must be generously seasoned. For Duarte, that means using enough salt and pepper to create what she describes as “an almost textured coating.” The filets are seared in a very hot pan to brown the meat, which adds flavor and helps hold in the juices. Care must be taken to avoid overcrowding the pan, as this creates steam rather than the desired seared crust.

When the filets are flipped, mushrooms are added to the pan, where the high heat helps them retain moisture and caramelize, which adds another layer of flavor. Duarte prefers maitake, but says other mushrooms, such as shiitake or portobello, also work well. The pan is then put in the oven to finish cooking the meat to medium rare.

Béarnaise sauce adds an acidic tang and herbal note to this dish. And, because center-cut filets are very lean, it also adds that essential flavor-enhancing element—fat. Getting the right texture in the Béarnaise requires vigorous whisking of the egg yolks and finesse with the heat. Your goal is a creamy texture and doubling of volume. The clarified butter must be added very slowly, so that the sauce emulsifies properly. Tabasco, lemon, salt and pepper are then added, and the sauce is finished with Saint Agur, a creamy French blue cheese, which adds pungency and further richness.

To assemble this dish, Duarte places each filet on a base of rösti—the classic Swiss potato dish that she described on the show as “kind of like a big hash brown.” To achieve the desired crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside texture, Duarte recommends using russet or Idaho potatoes, which she says are better able than most potatoes to take the heat without burning. In her Beat Bobby Flay version of rösti, Duarte added zucchini and onion to give the dish more flavor.

The filet is then topped with Béarnaise sauce and finished with mushrooms. In her restaurant, she adds French green beans to the plate to round out the meal.

After being pronounced the winner on Beat Bobby Flay, Duarte, teary-eyed, said, “To actually beat Bobby Flay in his own kitchen—one on one—I’m proud. It means a lot.” A Jersey native from a large, food-centric Italian family, she later described her winning strategy: “You never want to steer away from who you are. You can’t make something that you’ve never made before, or you might as well just pack it up. But, you also want it to be something so great that it will beat him,” which makes sound advice when choosing a winning dish for any cooking competition—including your next potluck meal.

706 Bloomfield Ave., Verona

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