Interview with Chef Craig Deihl of Cypress in Charleston, South Carolina and a recipe for Crisp Wasabi Tuna
Charleston, South Carolina is one of our favorite culinary destinations and has been for many years. We love the feel of the city and the fact that there are great restaurants on nearly every corner.
Cypress is one of the restaurants that we have enjoyed over the years (on several occasions), so we were excited to be able to sit down and meet with Executive Chef Craig Deihl on our latest visit to the city, just a few weeks ago.
Chef Deihl was one of six finalists in this year’s James Beard Foundation Best Chef Awards for the Southeast. In fact, he was just a week away from heading to New York City for the festivities surrounding the announcement of the winners when we met with him. He was also named Chef of the Year by the Greater Charleston American Culinary Federation Chapter in 2010 and was recently featured on an episode of Unique Eats for several of his small plates and bar menu items.
Deihl, age 32 and originally from Danville, Pennsylvania, is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University. Deihl began training at Magnolias in Charleston, working in that kitchen for almost five years before he was asked to help open Cypress in 2001. He became Executive Chef after only six months.
Deihl said that Cypress is much like him in that the exterior of the building is old-fashioned, yet the interior is very modern. This quite large and stunning restaurant (it seats 350 people) is very different in style from the other restaurants in Charleston. Covering two stories with a bar area upstairs that overlooks the large open kitchen, you get a sense that you are in a major metropolitan area. The wine cellar also covers an entire wall of the restaurant and is two stories high.
This chef has really gone under the radar over the last ten years, which was very surprising to us. He said that it was his Charcuterie and Artisan Meat Share program that has brought him into the spotlight. Deihl, who is self-taught in this area, began breaking down animals and making his own cured hams and sausages about 4 1/2 years ago. He also dry ages his own beef.
When the media became aware of his Charcuterie and he began what is essentially a Charcuterie CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), the curiosity set in and everyone wanted to see what was going on at Cypress. Deihl says that he has devoted these last 4 1/2 years to not just doing Charcuterie, but doing it better than anyone else and he believes he has achieved that. Perhaps his place in the finals for the James Beard Foundation awards affirms that.
Chef Deihl was the first chef in over 100 years to cook the rare American Guinea Hog. As he says, fat is what makes food taste better and this particular type of heritage pig is quite fatty.
This chef believes that fat is also better in beef and makes guests happier when they have a great steak that is well marbled. Much of today’s grass fed beef is lacking that marbling and the taste is being rejected by many consumers. He says that we have lost the art of making truly good grass fed beef. Cows, when they are well-taken care of and fed long enough on rotated grass pastures to get inter-muscular marbling, will have a “heck of a steak that is hard to beat”.
“Beef that was grass fed was originally meant to taste a bit gamey and was rich and robust and better for us. It treated our bodies better and was full of Omega-3 fatty acids”. Deihl also said that in braising these meats, the underused portions like shanks and bellies really shine. He thinks that we can certainly raise grass fed beef that will be acceptable to customers, but it will take more experimenting and longer feeding which will impact cost but improve taste.
As a young boy that struggled with High School, Deihl takes his cooking and success very seriously and strives to be the best. He loves what he does and wants people to experience the joy that he has in creating what he calls “well crafted food”. He says that they are really doing something special at Cypress, especially with the addition of the housemade Charcuterie.
“When the fork enters someone’s mouth, it should be an explosion of flavors and the delicateness should shine”. He calls his own cuisine Classic American with new a new fashion that is relatable to the guest. What we find unusual in his cooking is the different flavor combinations. He loves food with incredible flavors, especially Asian foods and influences. These have a rounded flavor profile – hot, sour, salty and sweet. He loves the addition of the “unami bomb” (or savory flavor) that is the fifth taste component. Shiitake mushrooms, soy, dry aged beef or a great Parmesan cheese in his dishes helps to create this last component.
As with every chef we have met, consistency in the food and the service is the key to running a successful restaurant. An Executive Chef cannot always be in the restaurant 365 days a year, although many people have that perception. He said a great staff is critical so that everything runs smoothly and that every dish is prepared with consistency. With a staff of 12 chefs, creating and sustaining the team is a challenge. Diehl says that this becomes even more important as he anticipates being away from the restaurant more in the future.
This chef says he has created “organized chaos” in his kitchen. He has a classic menu, a seasonal menu (that changes every 10 to 14 days), a bar menu and a Charcuterie program that is incredibly labor intensive. He comes up with the ideas and asks his staff of chefs to replicate it.
The addition of the Charcuterie program has really taken much of his time. He and his staff are able to take a whole animal and break it down using every part of the animal. After the meats and sausages are prepared, they will make stocks and sauces using the leftover parts and make pork rinds for bar snacks or garnishes from the pig skins. He says that they are on the forefront of the way it was done years ago and he uses everything but the squeal. (I’m betting that’s in there somewhere, too!)
Deihl says that you cannot rush the process in Charcuterie making. If it doesn’t taste good enough, let it sit longer. He never uses spices to cover up good meat, but will certainly add a few of those flavors that he is known for, depending on what he is trying to achieve. He loves unusual tastes in the Charcuterie and just as his other dishes, he wants a “symphony to go off in your mouth” when you taste the flavor combination.
When asked about the James Beard nomination, Chef Deihl said it was a great honor and a very special nomination for him since he was the only first time nominee in the finals in the Southeast this year. Yes, he wanted to win, but he said there is a fear of losing and winning. As we have heard from other nominees, it raises the bar and now you need to reach yet another level and that those bars will continue to be raised again and again. All eyes are on you and the expectations are higher than ever.
He also said that with this new publicity, you need to do more interviews and be out in the spotlight more. All of these appearances and special events take away time spent in the kitchen and that is why the culinary team is so important.
I am sure that Chef Deihl will experience this struggle with balancing his time more and more. He and Cypress are definitely on everyone’s radar screen now, more than ever. He recently prepared a special dinner for the James Beard Foundation in New York, where his creative talents shined.
Chef Deihl is also the author of Cypress: A Lowcountry Grille. This cookbook truly highlights the flavors and and combinations that he creates that work so well together. He suggested that I make one of the most requested dishes at Cypress, Crisp Wasabi Tuna. This dish truly exemplifies that “symphony of flavors in the mouth”. With several different sauces and this amazing combination of hot, sour, sweet, salty and the “unami bomb”, this is one of the most incredible dishes I have ever tasted.
- This cookbook allowed me to recreate the flavors at home that are one of the reasons that we go out to dinner. We enjoy these dishes that truly have a “wow” in every bite and it was created by using several different sauces and layering the flavors. I would highly recommend this cookbook if you enjoy more complex flavors and beautifully prepared food.
The recipe may seem complicated, but if you prepare the sauces ahead of time and do it in small steps, you will find that they dish is very manageable.
Thank you so much to Chef Deihl for his graciousness, lots of amazing Charcuterie (I even ate head cheese!) and a great evening visit with a few glasses of Maker’s 46! We really enjoyed getting to know him during our visits to Cypress.
Crisp Wasabi Tuna
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
This dish is the most requested item on the Cypress menu. It's incredibly flavorful and hits tastes buds with just the right notes of hot, sour, salty and sweet. When shopping for the fish, ask your fishmonger to cut the tuna in long, block-shaped pieces to help with the assembly for cooking.
5 sheets phyllo
1/4 cup clairifed butter
4 tablespoons wasabi powder
1/4 cup pineapple juice
4 (6-ounce) pieces sashimi tuna, cut into rectangles
1/4 cup peanut oil or canola oil (I used peanut oil)
For Chili Garlic Glaze:
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 tablespoon sambal oelek
1/2 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 tablespoon chopped mint
1/2 tablespoon chopped basil
For Edamame and Baby Shiitake Mushrooms:
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3/4 cup baby shiitake mushrooms
3/4 cup edamame
1/4 cup Chili Soy (recipe below)
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sambal oelek
2 tablespoons cold butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For Chili Soy Sauce:
1/2 cup Citrus Soy
1/2 cup Chili Glaze
For Citrus Soy:
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sambal
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons diced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 lime, zest and juice
1 orange, zest and juice
For Chili Glaze:
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons sambal
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1. Lay first phyllo sheet out lengthwise on a flat work surface and brush lightly with the butter. Lay second sheet on top of first sheet of phyllo and brush with the butter. Repeat this process with the remaining 3 sheets.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine wasabi powder and pineapple juice to make a smooth paste.
3. Add the wasabi paste to the bottom half of the phyllo sheets. Make sure the paste is an even thickness.
4. Place the blocks of tuna on op of the wasabi paste. Cut the phyllo the same width as the tuna pieces.
5. Roll the tuna, wasabi, and phyllo up. Make sure the wasabi only covers the tuna on the first revolution. (You don't want it to look like a jellyroll.)
6. Place a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add oil.
7. Add the wrapped tuna pieces to the saute pan and sear for one minute on each side. All sides should be golden brown and should appear to be cooked the same when looking at the ends of the pieces.
8. Transfer to a cutting board and slice each piece in thirds.
9. On four serving plates, place equal amounts of edamame and shiitake mushrooms. Place 3 slices of tuna on top. Finish with 2 tablespoons of Chili Garlic Glaze per plate.
For the Chili Garlic Glaze:
1. In a saucepan combine rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt. Place over medium-high heat and reduce by one-fourth. Mixture should have a syrup-like consistency.
2. Remove from heat and add garlic, ginger and sambal. Incorporate evenly and allow mixture to cool completely.
3. Add cilantro, mint and basil to cooked mixture. Adding herbs to mixture when hot will cause herbs to turn brown.
4. Place in a container and keep refrigerated.
For the Edamame and Baby Shiitakes:
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over high heat. Saute the shiitake mushrooms for about 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the edamame and Chili Soy Sauce. Saute for another minute; the Chili Soy Sauce should be syrupy.
3. Remove from heat and finish slowly stirring in the butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For Chili Glaze:
Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and incorporate evenly. This sauce can be kept at room temperature for about a week.
For Citrus Soy:
1. Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottom saucepan and reduce over medium heat by half.
2. When reduced, strain and cool. They soy can be made a day or two ahead of time; be sure to keep it cold.
For Chili Soy Sauce:
1. Combine ingredients evenly.
2. Keep refrigerated.
Executive Chef Craig Deihl
Cypress - Charleston, South Carolina
Reprinted from Cypress: A Lowcountry Grille