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A Talk With Chef Samir

by Steven Doyle

photos by Robert Bostick

Sitting down in the plush Uptown surroundings of Nick and Sam’s Steakhouse on a lazy afternoon we chatted up the gregarious chef Samir Dhurandhar, the corporate chef at Nick and Sam’, who also oversees concepts Nick and Sam’s Grill and Coal Vines. Samir looks like a great cook with the presence of an Old World chef that carries his gate proudly and with finesse. His demeanor is always affable, and shares great attention to details remembering everyone and every face with a single glance.

Samir grew up in Mumbai and always had a passion for food, something he attributes to his late mother who he insists was put on this earth to feed him. “I always looked forward to dinner at home. Being from India and on east coast we always had dinner together. My mom always put out a spread. She would put out a fish, a meat, a chicken, 2 or 3 types of vegetables, 2 or 3 types of bread. It was a sight,” shared chef Samir, “and I was always her little sous chef.“

His mother believed in this incredible hospitality that Samir now possesses. She had a talent for cooking and even taught classes in her home.

Later the young Samir would work in kitchens at local hotels in India and was eventually encouraged by his family to move to the New York City and attend the Culinary Institute of America.

“One of my classes at school was a purchasing class where they taught you how to buy different types of meat, different types of produce. That was my wake up call because I went into that class and I have never seen half the products. I had never seen purple cabbage, radicchio or rosemary. We simply didn’t have these things in India. Needless to say I did really bad in that class. Every since that class I worked very hard to learn more and I always worked harder, because I never wanted to do anything but be a chef for the rest of my life,” continued Samir.

Later Samir would work at the old Sfuzzi in New York, then eventually Tribeca Grill for Robert De Nero. “Things were going really well then Patrick Colombo who owned Sfuzzi called me up and invited me to Texas to work here [Nick and Sam’s] and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Samir is extremely family oriented and dots his conversations with mentions of his wife and children. His daughter has many food allergies so chef makes many dishes with allergies in mind and plans to roll out a hefty gluten-free menu, a movement that is gaining greater popularity.

What is the best way to make a great steak?

The best way to make a steak is to use the finest meat possible. I only use salt and pepper to season the meat and we have a grill that goes up to 1800 degrees. A lot of people think they need to marinate the meat, but if it’s quality beef there really is no need. We use only Allen Brothers of Chicago for meat that is aged for 28 days and then I age it an additional 14 days. All my steaks are wet dry-aged except for one that is a 32 ounce cowboy tomahawk that is dry aged for me.

Your favorite dish at Nick and Sam’s?

Our deviled eggs are close to my heart and I have taken them to another level. With the order you can get two with guacamole, two with sesame tuna and two with lobster and caviar. That’s my favorite on the menu.

Another great item we serve, and it’s off the menu is a Kung Pao Lobster. A chef in NY taught me how to make this wonderful sauce, so we take a Australian cold water tail and flash fry it, then toss it with the sauce.

What makes Nick and Sam’s different than the myriad of Dallas steak houses?

I try to keep things fresh. Most steak houses will keepo everything the same. We do a lot of appetizers that most steakhouses won’t supply. We are always creating new menu items to keep it all fresh and stay ahead of the times. You go to places like STK in LA and South Beach they are energetic and exciting, and that’s where steak houses are going these days.

What is your favorite restaurant?

By far my favorite restaurant is Gotham Bar and Grill  in New York City. Every time I am in the city I will go to Gotham. Other favorites are Thomas Kellers Ad Hoc in Yountville, California. Slanted Door in San Francisco, these places stand out at the top for me.

Name some local Dallas favorites.

Locally I love Caravelle, they do an amazing job. I love dim sum and we go to Kirin Court often. We try to go around 11:00 to beat the crowd. I love to eat that way. Dim sum is sharing with people. There is nothing better that dining around friends and family.

I also love Malaysian food and there is a place that just opened called Blue Ginger Garden. I was fortunate enough to meet the owner and they take really good care of us.

What about Indian food?

I cook a lot of Indian food. My wife now makes very good Indian food. 2 years ago I got a tandoor oven for my birthday, so now sometimes on a Sunday evening we will cook some fish, maybe some chickens and bread. My pantry is full of my mom’s spices, so we cook a lot of Indian food. But if I were to go out for Indian I would go to Maharaja in Plano.

Give us a great chef story.

I like the more exotic foods. I like chicken feet, I love brains. I really enjoy tripe. Once while at Sfuzzi we closed down the restaurant for Pavarotti. He had a chef from Sicily that came in that night and tried our tomato sauce and said this was trash. So he made the sauce and taught me how to make this tripe in tomato sauce – Tripe alla Romana. His great sauce was all about the way he cooked his tomatoes. He used a combination of fresh tomatoes and San Marzanos. He cooked the sauce very slow and even. He banged out a number ten [a commercial-sized can] top and flattened it, then he rested it on top of the burner so we had the same amount of heat and the same amount of bubbles.

He showed us how to make a fritter without turning it. He said that a fritter made right will flip on its own. It never happened for me.

Visit Nick and Sam’s for Easter Brunch (which will also serve as their 12th anniversary party), Sunday April 24 where Chef Samir will put out his very affordable, vast and very family-friendly spread that will surely please everyone.

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