‘The Bear’ Effect: Can Italian Beef Thrive in Los Angeles?
‘The Bear’ Effect: Can Italian Beef Thrive in Los Angeles?

‘The Bear’ Effect: Can Italian Beef Thrive in Los Angeles?

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Most days, Michael Walker couldn’t move his Italian beef sandwiches easily — he sold maybe 10 all day at his Los Angeles pop-up Comfy Pup. Then, on June 26, the beef sold out within two hours of setting up its concession stand.

Such is the power of The Bear, the FX series that premiered days earlier and is quickly becoming the focus of an ongoing discourse about the life of a chef, grief, PTSD in the kitchen and, of course, Italian beef, the Chicago favorite , found is prominently featured in the show. Southern California chefs, who already have a crush on the sopping-soaked, flavorful sandwich, want to believe the real rise in popularity is simply the growing fascination with one of Chicago’s most iconic dishes, and they’re hoping it stays in LA

Chicagoans like Walker — whose Comfy Pup is committed to Midwestern food — can rattle off the necessary ingredients of a “beef” as easily as they can extol the virtues of a Chicago hot dog with pickle skewers: The beef should be roasted, wafer-thin and briefly soaked in spicy jus, then heaped into a 6- to 8-inch bun of hyper-origin and topped with sweet (roasted) or spicy peppers, the latter a nickname for spicy giardiniera, which add a bright vinegary bite to an otherwise hearty, heavy meal. The sandwich can be “dry,” “wet,” or “dipped,” depending on how soggy you prefer the bread, which will determine how flavorful and messy the experience will be.

Historically, few restaurants in the LA area have offered real beef, although that’s changing thanks to the show’s popularity. Just ask Walker.

“We sold about 250% more than usual over the weekend when it came out,” he says of his booth, which has popped up this year primarily at the weekly food festival in LA’s Arts District, Smorgasburg. The last performance will take place there this Sunday, new locations will be announced later on Instagram. “It was crazy. It took off straight away. I’d say we probably sold out the first three weeks of the show coming out. I can still hear people saying it as they walk by: They’ll see my menu and they’ll say : ‘Italian beef. Yes, boss!’ And I just find it so funny because people had no idea what Italian beef was. Now everyone is quoting the show when they see the sandwich.”

The sandwich is central to the comedic drama and establishes the power struggle that unfolds in the first season. Top chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (played by Jeremy Allen White) returns to run his family’s beef shop after the death of his brother. Wanting to reinvent their simpler, tried-and-true recipes to incorporate a bit more of himself and his culinary skills, Carmy changes the recipe for the restaurant’s jus, red sauce, and beef cuts, and introduces the French hierarchical brigade system of kitchen leadership including the requirement that everyone respond to every order with the promise “Yes, boss!”.

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Michael Walker reaches for tongs to load a bun with Italian beef at the weekly food festival Smorgasburg. Comfy Pup will be making a comeback elsewhere in town in October.

(Annie Noelker / For the Times)

He immediately throws the staff – including his colleague Richard “Richie” Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) – into chaos at the fictional sandwich shop The Beef. True sandwich fans feel similarly; you just don’t mess with a beef, and if you want to “improve” it, you’d better bring your A-game.

On that Sunday in June, Walker couldn’t figure out where all his new business was coming from. Later that evening it dawned on him that the show had premiered the previous Thursday; Then he went nuts for the whole series and saw a lot of himself in Carmy.

Walker, who grew up in Buffalo Grove, a Chicago suburb, wanted to put his own stamp on the beloved beef he had eaten all his life. First, he slowly roasted beef bones to create the jus, spending hours creating a more unique flavor profile than the Vienna beef broth and meat that many beef shops source from. He saw Carmy as the poster child of the direction chefs are headed, the new guard of fine dining technique and creativity meeting the faithful.

“When I saw that, I was like, ‘Yeah, right, Carmy,’ but that’s not how it works,” he says. “I’d say 90% of people would like my homemade Italian beef, but that 10% come up and say, ‘This doesn’t taste like Portillo’s.’ But those are the people I don’t want to upset because those are the guys who come up to me looking just like my best friends’ dads.

Though the sandwiches were popular, this feedback shattered him, and given the time and space constraints it took to prepare the beef, Walker decided to swap his meat for Viennese produce and streamline his operations — for now. Following last Sunday’s performance in Smorgasburg, Comfy Pup will return to performing at bars and events across the country to give Walker a chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep. The chef dreams of returning his gourmet version of sandwiches, roast beef bones and long-simmering jus in an offshoot series called Fancy Pup.

On the other edge of downtown, a nearly 100-year-old delicatessen is offering Italian beef for the first time.

Billy Astorga also sees himself in Carmy again. In February, the Le Cordon Bleu graduate with a background in fine dining and home cooking joined the team at Eastside Italian Deli, trading a more aesthetically oriented, tweezer-centric mindset for hoagies, salads and spreads.

“That was the hard part for me,” he says. “After being an artist for over 10 years and having put that first and now being in a place where it doesn’t matter very much, sometimes I feel, ‘Am I losing the ball?’ But it shows in the little things I do.”

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To that end, Astorga has revamped some of the more classic Eastside dishes, like the potato salad, and added newer, chef-ier options to the catering menu. That’s why he’s added his take on Italian beef in both Chinatown and Los Feliz.

The chef watched the pilot of The Bear, which he said scared him, then came to work and told co-owner Vito Angiuli how much he was enjoying it. Astorga finished work at 2:30 p.m., went home, ate the series until about 3:00 a.m., and went to bed dreaming about beef. He woke up at 5:30 a.m., arrived at the deli at 6:30 a.m. and an hour later the two were already planning the new sandwich.

The deli’s in-house roast beef — an all-day process pioneered by a decade-long employee — was already in place for the cold and hot roast beef sandwiches, the latter of which includes provolone and roasted peppers. The new Italian beef called Bear gets an extra slice of provolone (an ingredient not used in a classic Italian beef), giardiniera, and a ladle of jus made with the fat from the roast beef pan. For the bear sandwich, they place the sliced ​​beef in the jus for a maximum of 15 minutes (the meat is sliced ​​thicker than a traditional Italian beef so it can withstand a dip in the steaming sauce longer). It’s not served on a Turano Baking Co. bun — the gold standard for beef purists, but a nearly impossible bread to get here in Los Angeles — but a soft Italian bun that still manages to set with a ladleful of jus to stay.

Eastside Italian Deli’s bear sandwich is Chef Billy Astorga’s interpretation of Chicago Italian beef.

(Stephanie Breijo/Los Angeles Times)

It’s not only an ode to his shared experience with Carmy, but one of the few shows he’s seen that summarizes the pitfalls, ups and fears of working in professional kitchens.

“For me, it was the fact that they were so good at conveying the frustration and how intense kitchen life can be for people,” says Astorga. “A lot of people don’t realize how intense it is and how it affects your personal life. A lot of tough jobs do that, but this industry is really tough; A lot of the chefs I work with are divorced, they have drug or alcohol problems.”

In Buena Park and the Moreno Valley, a little slice of Chicago draws hundreds of thousands of guests each year with the smell of long roast beef and some of the world’s most famous hot dogs. Portillo’s is a famed Chicagoland chain that’s grown to nine — soon to be ten — states since its humble beginnings as a hot dog stand in 1963, and like many other vendors of Italian beef, sales of the sandwich have been booming since the show premiered End of June.

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Garrett Kern can’t say for sure if “The Bear” is solely responsible for Portillo’s sandwich’s recent surge in popularity, but the company’s vice president of strategy and culinary departments says it’s likely the cause.

“Countless people – close friends, family, acquaintances, etc. – have contacted me,” says Kern. “People in the office talk about the show all the time. I would assume there would be some people [customers] Ask about it because if you’re in a place like LA, our locations are probably some of the closest places to get real Italian beef.

They are few and far between, especially from brand manufacturers. Other major Chicago beef makers have attempted to relocate to Los Angeles — some more successfully than others. At Gino’s East, which opened in Sherman Oaks in late 2019, sales of the beef are also up; The beef institution Al’s Beef closed in Alhambra in 2016.

It took years for the Portillo’s Italian beef to become popular with customers outside the Chicago area. Since The Bear premiered, the national chain says sales of the item have increased across the country.

(Stephanie Breijo/Los Angeles Times)

At Portillo’s, home of one of the gold standards for Italian beef, the meat is roasted in a commissariat kitchen, with the jus also made in-house. It’s all scooped onto Turano buns and topped with Marconi’s proprietary Giardiniera mix that includes carrots, celery, peppers and cauliflower, diced and portioned to Portillo’s specifications — including slightly more carrots and celery than the variety in the jar in the store shelves.

The jump in sales of these sandwiches after the premiere wasn’t reflected in Chicago-area locations, but Kern says it was different almost everywhere. Kern, who grew up eating Italian beef in Chicago, is thrilled that it’s gaining momentum elsewhere in the country — a far cry from the brand’s first attempts to introduce the sandwich, which was often met with customers chiming in with the hint that they were soaked, returned bread to the counter and asked the staff to make it new for them. He’s optimistic that the surge in interest in The Bear is just the beginning.

“I hope one day there’s beef sandwiches up there on Mt. Rushmore that other people know about,” says Kern, “but it’s very local, and I think it’s just starting to dip its toe in the water.” dive and introduce yourself to the people.”

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Source : localtoday.news

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