Beef Means Business: An Interview with Top Chef Carrie Baird

Chef Carrie Baird’s restaurant, Bar Dough, has been named as one of the top 25 restaurants in Denver three years in a row and is a longstanding entry on Eater’s 38 Essential Denver Restaurants. Chef Baird became a national household name during her long run on Top Chef’s Colorado-based season 15, where she had the opportunity to showcase her high-altitude culinary skills. Known on the show for her challenge-winning “fancy toasts,” as well as for preparing a beef stroganoff made with Rocky Mountain oysters, Chef Baird quickly became a fan favorite. 

The Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. team recently caught up with Chef Baird at an event at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Culinary Center, funded by the Beef Checkoff, to ask her about her favorite beef cuts, how beef can make a successful fancy toast, and ultimately, why Beef Means Business for her restaurant.

You’re know for embracing seasonality… and you’ve posted on social media that braising season is your favorite. What are your favorite cuts to braise?

The Short Rib, obviously. And if Short Ribs are a little expensive, there’s nothing wrong with a good Chuck Flap. Beef Cheeks is one of my favorite lesser known cuts. They’ll graze the menu, every now and then.

And what about other seasons, for example, what are your favorite cuts to use in the summer?

Well, grilling season is one of my favorite seasons and so, any of the nice steaks that you cook to a medium rare, like Flank Steak and Skirt Steaks. I really like the Coulotte Cut, which is really fun and not as well known. The Hanger Steak used to be that, but now it’s everywhere. 

I showed restraint by waiting until the second-ish question to ask about fancy toast. On Top Chef, you used beef stock in your Quickfire-winning “top of the French onion soup” toast. And you just released a beef Short Rib fancy toast. Can you speak more to using beef in fancy toasts?

The top of the French onion soup was such a funny one. Like I had, I think, 20 minutes to come up and concept that dish. If you remember, Joe stole my pork chops, so all I had left was onions and a lemon. And you know, there's no better way to add flavor and depth to something than a good beef stock. So, I was really lucky that was in their well-stocked pantry. Fancy toast is a very simple thing. So if you use a nice beef stock, you can really make that flavor grow so much.

The Short Rib that's on the menu now… first of all, it's such a power word. You say Short Rib and people are just like, “I want that!” And then you put it on top of something delicious and, and it's slow, low cooked and red wine. You just can't go wrong with Short Ribs.

How do you innovate with beef?

If you have an interesting cut or purchase a whole cow, it’s a way to set yourself apart, which I think is interesting.

How does beef impact the profitability of your restaurant?

We'll put a nice big 16-ounce New York Strip on, but people are paying for it. You know, like it's a destination pick, it's a special night out. So, when beef is on the menu, we usually target times of the year, like New Year's Eve, Christmas, the holidays, graduation, Valentine's Day, because beef is special. 

Because you mentioned that beef can be a special occasion meal, have you noticed that people tend to spend more on appetizers, sides, desserts and alcohol when they order beef?

I think the way the menu is engineered, especially at Bar Dough, and how it is going – it’s like the Ruth’s Chris model where you get a steak and just a steak. The days of a protein, starch and a side are gone. That’s few and far between, especially if you’re looking for beautiful, nice cuts of beef. So, I feel like people who buy beef tend to have a higher price point and so they spend more on food – more food – and alcohol.

How do you harness the versatility of beef – from affordable cuts like Ground Beef up to Ribeyes and Tenderloin Filets?

We make beautiful Brodo, so we buy a lot of beef bones and things like beef cheeks and tongue. It’s important for my clientele at Bar Dough, because it’s not necessarily a fancy restaurant. It’s more of a comforting, peasant food, and that’s where those cuts come in.