Q&A: New BLT Steak Chef Jeremy Shelton

The “Wagyu master” talks steak and new plans for the restaurant.

Meet Jeremy Shelton, the new BLT Steak chef. Photograph courtesy of BLT Steak.

New BLT Steak toque Jeremy Shelton has cooked at the restaurant for just under a month, but we’re already seeing changes on the steakhouse menu. The toque arrived from Miami, having cooked at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta and a branch of Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak. We spoke with the avid hunting fan about his ideal steakhouse dinner, making moist turkey (it’s almost Thanksgiving, after all), and what he’d like to cook for the First Couple.

What’s your ideal BLT Steak meal?

I’d probably go with the classics and have tuna tartare to start, then the rib eye with the bone marrow, and finish off with the peanut butter mousse. It doesn’t get much better than that.

You’ve been described as a “Wagyu master.” How do you become one?

Those were certainly not my words! Right now we have three main cuts, and we’ve put on a Wagyu strip—it’s probably an eight, nine grade if you want to put it on the scale—and it’s all Australian Wagyu. I’m trying to get ahold of some American Wagyu. We’re really looking to add some cuts at a more reasonable price, so you don’t have to go out and spend $90 just to eat a Wagyu steak.

If you really want to splurge, what’s the best Wagyu you can get in the States?

That’s definitely the Japanese A5 Wagyu, hands down. It all depends on how you serve it, but BLT Steak [in New York] sells it at $25 an ounce with a four-ounce minimum, and that’s probably along the lines of what we’ll do. It’s just so rich and fatty and decadent that you can’t eat too much of it.

You worked at Scarpetta. Will we see Italian influences on the menu?

Scarpetta was one of those dream restaurants where everything seemed perfect. The chef’s name was Mike Pirolo, and he was a large influence on me in terms of molding my career. I shifted from being a cook to more of a chef that thinks outside the box, and makes things better wherever I am. That was one of my best restaurant experiences, and I fell in love with pasta. The beauty of Italian food is that it’s so simple and straightforward, and very ingredient-based. Still, I want to make sure what we’re doing stays true to the concept of the restaurant.

What are some of the new dishes you’re excited about?

We have a cobia dish right now with cauliflower purée, uni, and finger limes. It’s ash-crusted: basically scallions that we put it in the 1,200-degree broiler until they’re completely charred, and then grind it all up and crust the top of the cobia with that ash. You think it’s going to taste burnt, but it just has this earthy, savory flavor to it. It works really well with the cobia, because it’s such a fatty fish. And then we have the finger-lime vinaigrette, which is like a caviar that pops in your mouth.

What are some of the things you’ll do with the bar menu?

We’re looking to get a more snack-based bar menu going—not something that’s just easy to share at happy hour, but more through the course of the night. We’re basically trying to revamp the entire thing. We talked about making jerky, and it’s something I love to do, I just want to make sure we do it in a way that’s true to the concept of the restaurant. You don’t want businessmen coming in and sitting down to eat a piece of jerky.

The Obamas have been know to drop by BLT Steak. If they came in tomorrow and you could make anything, what would it be?

One of the things I have on the blackboard menu now is a confit pork shank. It’s confited for three and a half hours in lard—I know that doesn’t sound so appealing—and then it’s deep-fried. We braise it in a caramelized onion jus to order, and it’s served over polenta with gremolata on top. It’s so good.

Since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving, what’s your tip for moist turkey?

You have to keep checking it, and when you think it might be done, it probably is. You have to go with your gut instinct, and don’t be afraid to undercook it. Once you overcook it, it becomes dry, but if it’s undercooked you can always cut into it and throw it back in the oven for a little bit. I think it’s also best for the anatomy of the bird to separate the legs and the thighs from the breast and roast the breast separately.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.