Sessions Chef Max Schlutz Shares Recipe for Vietnamese-Style Steak Salad

Max Schlutz, chef-partner at Sessions West Coast Deli’s, is set to open a fourth location adjacent to Macy’s at Fashion Island, projected to open in early November. In addition to generous patio seating, there are about 30 seats inside, plus six barstools.

I asked him about the challenges he faced when opening this newest location.

“We are well-organized, and our designer is awesome; she is someone I have worked with before,” he said. “This is the fastest I’ve seen a property go from nothing to build-out. We’re having fun, but this experience is different because we are under the Macy’s ‘school of business.’ It is required that all employees be trained and certified by Macy’s. It’s called ‘onboarding.’ That’s a new thing for us.

“The synergy with Macy’s holds potential for more Sessions locations, from Santa Barbara to San Diego. They strive to bring in a more youthful demographic, and we are part of the strategy.”

One kitchen snag might be a heat-source adjustment that will require cooking trials of sorts. There isn’t a gas connection in the new place, so cooking will be on electric equipment.

“I’ve never cooked on an electric stovetop, but I don’t fry a lot of stuff,” he explained. “I understand it’s about 20 percent slower.”

The true test, he noted, will be the deep fryer. If French fries are popular, it will get a real workout.

The new-location menu will focus on lunch and dinner. Sessions’ other eateries (Huntington Beach, Irvine, Newport Beach) serve breakfast, but the new one will open daily at 10 a.m. with some breakfast-like options, such as avocado toast.

“We’re putting a lot of effort into our beer and wine program,” he said. “The beer program in Irvine has been very successful. … We are treating it like a true a bottle shop. We have a very balanced array of beers. We try to make sure that beers will pair with specific styles of food. Cold brew on tap, kombucha on tap, plus wine – one white and one red, a pinot and a sauvignon blanc.”

Whether it’s a simple side or a signature sandwich, everything is made from scratch in Sessions’ kitchens. Schlutz joined me in my home kitchen to show off his take on a Vietnamese-style salad, a dish that will be featured on the new menu.

He described it as being like a delicious cold beef noodle salad, but without the starch, a dish that offers a different experience with every bite. The noodles are replaced with crunchy vegetables and fresh herbs. Healthier components include fresh basil and mint for sweetness and sage for a savory note.

I asked if there will be additional locations and he was quick to answer yes – most probably three new projects in 2020.

Fashion Island Love: He says that Fashion Island is 100 percent eyes on the brand, a location that appeals to tourists and locals alike, adding that Sessions is about healthy, active outdoor lifestyles. It’s Southern California to its core, a perfect marriage.

Restaurant Memories: His family hails from Chicago, and he feels nostalgic about times spent with his father savoring deep-dish pizza at Uno Pizzeria in the Windy City. He also relishes recollections of meals shared with his grandfather at The Apple Pan in Los Angeles and Hamburger Hamlet in Beverly Hills. Hamburgers were often the choice. And it turns out that it was his grandfather that first taught him how to grill.

Secret Talent: He is a good athlete, a darn good tennis player. He was on three college tennis teams – UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Cruz. He taught tennis at Newport Harbor High School. He is also a marathon runner.

Advice to New Hires: He expects them to care about the food and understand the menu. He tells them to ask if they don’t understand something and be honest about any confusion. Ask, he insists, explaining that that is where Gordon Ramsey is wrong. I don’t want them to be afraid.

Home Freezer: Tons of ice packs, plus bags of frozen corn and frozen peas – must-haves for injuries – take up a lot of space. Frozen Amy’s Organic Mac and Cheese is on hand for his son Asher.

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”

Sessions’ Da Nang Steak Salad

Yield: 2 servings, with leftover nut mixture, dressing, and steak

1 (1-pound) bistro steak, see cook’s notes

Marinade: 2 cups soy sauce, 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 1/4 cup garlic powder, 1 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup sesame seeds, 1 1/2 cups bourbon, 1/2 cup sliced green onions, 1/2 cup grated fresh ginger

Nut mixture: 1/2 cup white sesame seeds, 1/2 cup black sesame seeds, 3/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds, 1 cup shaved almonds, 3 tablespoons olive-canola oil blend, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 2 tablespoons roasted sesame oil

Dressing: 1 cup fresh lime juice, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup fish sauce, 1 small peeled garlic clove (thinly sliced, 1/2 serrano chili (thinly sliced, seeded if a milder version is desired)

Salad: 2 to 3 cups mixed greens, 1 cup shredded red cabbage, 2 tablespoons whole leaf fresh basil, 3 tablespoons whole leaf fresh mint, 3 tablespoons whole leaf fresh sage, 3 tablespoons whole leaf fresh cilantro, 1 tablespoon shaved jalapeno chili, 1/4 cup thinly sliced cucumber, 1/4 cup green onion, 1/4 cup pickled onion, sriracha aioli (2 cups mayonnaise mixed with 1/4 cup sriracha, 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice and salt to taste), optional garnish-thinly sliced watermelon radish

Cook’s notes: A shoulder tender also called a bistro steak; it’s beef from the blade of the shoulder (chuck).

  1. For steak: In a nonreactive bowl or container, combine all marinade ingredients; stir to dissolve sugar. Reserve 1/2 cup of marinade. Add steak to remaining marinade. Cover and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. For nut mixture: Toss seeds and nuts together in a bowl. Drizzle on oil blend and salt. Toss. Spread on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with sesame oil. Roast until lightly browned and aromatic; turn on oven light and watch closely because nuts and seeds burn easily. Cool. If you prefer, this mix can be toasted in a skillet on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, rather than the oven.
  3. For dressing: In a bowl or glass measuring cup, combine lime juice and sugar; stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in fish sauce, garlic, and serrano. Set aside.
  4. Cook steak: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shake excess marinade off meat (discard marinade but not the reserved one). Place in small roasting pan. Roast 20 minutes; remove from oven and drizzle with reserved marinade and roast 10 additional minutes (internal temperature should be 125 degrees). Allow to rest 10 minutes before slicing.
  5. For the salad: In large mixing bowl, toss together greens, cabbage, basil, mint, sage, cilantro, jalapeno, cucumber, green onion and pickled onion. Stir dressing; add enough to sides of bowl to coat the leaves; toss and taste. In two shallow salad bowls, lightly drizzle bottom of bowls with aioli. Top with salad. Thinly slice steak and fan atop salads. Sprinkle on about 2 to 3 tablespoons nut mixture. If using, garnish with sliced watermelon radish.

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