On the Line: Phillip M. Kaufman of Holstein's Shakes And Buns, Part One

For the second destination of Holstein's Shakes and Buns, we find them in Orange County. And not just any brick-and-mortar, but a coveted anchor at Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza. With an expanded food and beverage menu, I get my burger 'n beer fix and converse with both Chef de Cuisine Phillip Kaufman and beverage director Christopher Janz. Tomorrow, Christopher chimes in. Today's installment focuses on Kaufman's contributions in the kitchen.

How do tastes vary between Las Vegas and Orange County diners?
Our clientele here in Orange County definitely prefers wheat buns and lettuce wraps compared to our customers in Las Vegas. In Costa Mesa, it seems like we cannot keep enough wheat buns in-house; whereas Las Vegas sells less than a dozen per day. I think the O.C. diners enjoy both locations, but may feel a little less inhibited when it comes to eating in Vegas. That can most likely be said about any restaurant in Las Vegas.

You have to remember that people are on vacation when they go to Vegas, so the rules change a little bit. Our customers who dine in both locations, I believe, are a little more health conscious back home in Orange County than when relaxing in Las Vegas. But hey, what happens in Vegas stays there. Right?

Most indispensable kitchen utensil?
I have two: a Japanese mandoline and a new, unblemished and unscratched egg pan.


One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
I think one stereotype that is not true is that women eat more seafood and less meat compared to men. This is not entirely the case, at least at Holstein's.

Where was your most recent meal? What did you have?
Sushi at Gen Kai in Dana Point with my wife; they have awesome fresh fish.

Most undervalued ingredient:
Believe it or not, I think it's salt. So many people skip it and do not use it correctly, either because they are afraid of it, or just don't understand its basic need to bring out so many flavors in different products, and to help tie them together.

Where does your name come from? And what sets you apart from other burger concepts?
Holstein's comes from our Corporate Chef and Owners, Anthony Meidenbauer and Billy Richardson. When developing the concept for Holstein's Las Vegas, a fun burger and shake concept, they decided that the name Holstein's, a dairy cow, would be perfect. Shakes and Buns = Dairy and Meat = Holstein's.

I think there are several things that set us apart from other concepts. First and foremost, the quality product that we use; our burger meat is a special blend and grind proprietary to our restaurants, ground fresh for our restaurants daily. Second, the overall direction and expectations from Chef Anthony Meidenbauer and holding to his high expectation level sets us apart. Third, at the end of the day we are just a fun restaurant concept, serving fresh and exceptional quality food at a very reasonable price. Fourth, our concept; we are not a fine dining restaurant but a “fun dining” restaurant; a place for all.

Tell us about the meat used in your burgers.
The meat we use is a proprietary blend of both wet and a 21-day, dry-aged sirloin at a very specific ratio. It is ground a bit coarser than most grinds, giving us a better mouth feel and texture. Flavor-wise, as it is a dry-aged blend, it tends to be a little stronger in flavor than most burgers in the industry. We feel this sets us apart from most burger and restaurant concepts.

With a sizable bar/lounge, have you been seeing a late-night crowd?
I think our late night crowd is steadily growing. We hope we become the new late night spot and bring people into the area, and keep them when they are here.

Let's discuss your big plate selections. Why aren't they on the Vegas menu, and how do they reflect your “contemporary meets old world” style?
The Orange County location is really a Holstein's Plus. Holstein's Orange County is a combination of Holstein's at The Cosmopolitan and our restaurant Public House at The Venetian in Las Vegas. The big plates come from Public House. We felt that being outside of Vegas, a larger menu format would have a greater response.

These plates are Chef Anthony Meidenbauer's creations, but my style still fits with them. They are old world in the sense that they are classic type dishes, and contemporary because we still do a different twist with them. For instance, the free range chicken is served with jalapeno-cheddar grits. The short ribs are braised in porter beer and served with IPA battered onions for a newer take on a couple of old classics.

The Holstein's concept is based on fun burgers and on our fun takes on classic street foods. I think both my style of cooking and that of Chef Anthony's concept fit well together.

What was the first meal that you made that you were proud of?
I am proud of many meals over the years and my career, up to and including cooking for Rene Verdon (John F. Kennedy's White House chef), former Presidents Ford and Carter, as well as Kofi Annan when he was Secretary General of the UN. But I think the first meal I was really proud of was a 4-course dinner I cooked for my Mom after working for a couple of CIA graduates, and before I myself entered the CIA. I've got to be honest– I cannot remember what I made, but I remember the look on her face, and that was all I needed to know.

One food you can't live without:
That's a tough one. If you ask me this question in a month it may be different, but at the moment, I'd have to say peanut butter and jelly sandwich with potato chips stuffed inside. Why, because of its simplicity and the crunch factor.

Your work experience includes many California eateries. Please elaborate on your resume.
I have had the privilege to work in many fine establishments over the years; most recently at The Sea Ranch Lodge in The Sea Ranch in Northern California. I was fortunate to have a good staff in a very isolated destination resort on the border of Sonoma and Mendocino counties (Mendonoma Coast), and was privileged enough to be named to Best Chef's America for 2013.

Closer to home, I was the Executive Chef at Hush Restaurant in Laguna Beach and probably did some of my finest cooking there. I was twice named as one of Orange County's top 25 chefs. I had a great space, and our food was so well received by the dining public and reviewers. Additionally, over the years I also worked at Towers Restaurant at the Surf and Sand Resort, Bouzy Rouge Café in Newport Beach, Dana Point Resort, and I got my start at The Old Dana Point Café and Wine Bar.

I was also fortunate to be able to gain some amazing experience outside the California borders at The Little Nell Hotel in Aspen, Colorado working for Richard Chamberlin. And working at L'Auberge de Sedona in Sedona, Arizona.

What would be your last meal on earth?
I think it would be a seared ahi tuna and foie gras sandwich on crusty French bread, a bowl of French onion soup, Jean Louis Palladin's white truffle risotto and a Drunken Monkey alcoholic shake from Holstein's. I mean why not splurge; it is my last one, after all.

Most frequently asked question by guests.
Food-wise, I think it's about the poutine. People are curious as to its origin. When I tell them that it's Canadian, they are usually surprised.

Another frequent question is how many avocados we put in our artichoke “guac”. When I tell them zero they are very surprised. They are always surprised when I tell them that it is hummus-based, and we call it “guac” because of its texture and color.

Beverage-wise, I think the most asked question is how many beers we have. Then how many of them are on draft Then can we get more on draft than by bottle or cans.

Holstein's Shakes and Buns, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 352-2525; www.holsteinsburgers.com.

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