Chef Jason Smith of Steak 954 on Dietary Issues, Vegetarians
When you think of steak-house chefs, images of big old guys with tall chefs hats and curly mustachios probably spring to mind. These are the guys who will cook your steak only au poivre medium-rare, served with potatoes, butter-drenched cognac sauce, and a few pieces of veg -- for color.
Steak 954's Jason Smith is not one of those guys.
A farm boy from Indiana, Smith loves his vegetables and is actually rather health-conscious. As someone who has issues with lactose and (possibly) gluten himself, he's really one of those chefs who is more than happy to accommodate whatever dietary needs are thrown his way -- but most of his food sways toward the wholesome side anyway.
We chatted with Smith about his new fall menu and his takes on the new, healthier-food scene.
See also: South Florida's Best Hotel Restaurants
Just released last week, Smith's fall menu incorporates a wide range of lighter seafood plates, such as the organic scottish salmon ($28) with tomato relish, shaved fennel, and soft herb salad; and the yellowfin tuna tartar ($16) with lemon aioli, radish sprouts, and cowboy potato chips, as well as healthier side dishes and vegetables like smoked cauliflower and kale ($9).
"I grew up on a farm, and I really like vegetables and the way vegetables are supposed to taste," said Smith.
When Steak 954 first opened its doors, it served heavy sides like cauliflower with melted havarti and bacon to now smoking the cauliflower itself and serving it with kale and pickled onions -- a health-conscious offering that customers are all about. It went from selling more house-made tater tots than any other side to now pumping out asparagus like its going out of style.
Since opening the restaurant in 2009, Smith says the concept has slowly evolved from a normal steak house into more. While the spot still specializes in high-end steaks, both Smith and his customers started gravitating to lighter, healthier fare. With five out of eight entrées made of seafood -- excluding the steak, of course -- it's swayed toward the pescatarian side. Fish is now one of the most heavily ordered selections off the menu.
"It's kind of a running joke in the kitchen," he said. "We're given ourselves the nickname of Fish 954. We do a lot of vegetable and vegan plates too, though."
While Smith is more than happy to cook a steak, he's personally into eating as well as possible. He eats a lot of lentils, quinoa, beans, and vegetables, and he's mostly cut out gluten and dairy -- aside from tasting at work.
Ten years ago, he discovered he has issues with lactose, and he's recently started testing himself for gluten sensitivities. Because of his own intolerances, he readily caters to his customers requests.
"It used to be a trend that chefs wouldn't leave something out of a dish," he said. "Earlier in my career, I may have had a problem doing so myself; but personally, I can't eat dairy, lactic acid, so I get it."
Of course, if you're still looking to dig in on some cholesterol-heavy lactose- and gluten-filled options, like $65 954 Cheesesteak with Wagyu rib eye, truffle cheese whiz, and foie gras on a fresh baked brioche with a glass of champagne, Smith will also make that happen.
Steak 954 is located at 401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-414-8333, or visit steak954.com.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to South Florida dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.