A Steak and Radish Dish Delivers a Punch of Umami
At Bloomington, Indiana’s Cardinal Spirits, Chef Dean Wirkerman focuses on shareable dishes that match the casual vibe of the distillery-restaurant. That includes a dish of steak and radishes (recipe), which he says works as either an appetizer for six or main course for two.
“I like how everything is broken down and shareable; what we’re about at Cardinal is reaching over the table with good friends,” he says. The steak is served sliced and accompanied by radishes, nori sauce, pickled onions and horseradish. Wirkerman says the array of accompaniments for the steak is designed to hit a range of tastes; there’s sweet and sour from the pickled onions, umami from the nori sauce, heat from the horseradish, and bitter from the radishes.
“The way I see it is that the steak is the foundation and then you put whatever you want with it,” he says. “You start with a nice big piece and stack things on top. The nori sauce is strong, so you don’t need to use much. Season with it and don’t slather it. It’s so powerfully umami.”
Wirkerman says he's long been inspired by Japan. “I spent some time over there and there’s always a lot of Japanese influences [in my food]. This dish really speaks to my understanding of that cuisine.”
Before moving to Bloomington a year and a half ago, Wirkerman worked at Per Se in New York and Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, and says that he approaches dish creation with an eye toward educating his staff.
“What we do here is a training program,” he says. “In Bloomington, we really have to develop our staff and the inspiration for this dish was trying to share umami with them. It’s a hard concept to grasp… and I wanted to give them that opportunity. The nori sauce so strong that it needs something heavy like a steak, or powerful like radish.”
Since Cardinal is a distillery that makes a wide range of spirits, like gin, vodka and rum, as well as liqueurs, like walnut and coffee, odds are diners will be drinking cocktails alongside Wirkerman’s food.
“We have a bartender, David Fenner, who is doing a lot of stirred drinks infused with vegetables that have really clean flavors,” Wirkerman says. One is the Farmer’s Daughter, made with radish-infused vodka, honey, lemon, jalapeño, mint and black pepper. “It’s funky, vegetal and a perfect match for the radish flavor in the dish.”