Victor Loy’s unusual passion for secondary cuts of beef happened thanks to a girl.
At 18 years old, the Malaysian-born chef – then a cook at Dome Cafe in Penang – had wanted to prepare a steak to impress a lady, and so bought a slab of chuck tender.
“It looked so similar to tenderloin, and my wallet was a bit thin, I thought this was great, affordable,” he chuckles. But unfamiliar with how to handle the meat, he seared it aggressively on high heat.
“I was very gung ho,” Loy recounts. “The butter was burned, and it didn’t taste good at all.”
That particular date didn’t pan out. But that experience would spark a lifelong fascination with secondary cuts. “I realised that if I had cooked the meat differently, it would have been very tasty,” says the Singapore-based chef, now 37. “I wanted to rectify my mistake.”
Unwilling to be beat, the young man continued to buy more hunks of chuck tender, experimenting with different cooking methods – braising, roasting and so on – until he achieved something tasty.
He was left to his own devices for most of these attempts, as online cooking videos mainly showed primary cuts, with little to no instruction on how to handle secondary ones.
Fast forward about two decades, and Loy now replicates his success on a large scale at steakhouse Meadesmoore, where he is executive chef. The joint specialises in sharing platters that feed up to three at once, comprising aged prime rib and other uncommon cuts like flat iron, rib cap, and zabuton.
Loy has had no shortage of opportunities to prove his mettle in the kitchen. After obtaining an associate culinary degree from hospitality school IMI Switzerland, he worked in kitchens in Lausanne, Lyon, Barcelona, London and Monaco; back in Singapore, his resume includes stints at the Hilton and Amara hotels, 1-Altitude, and ME@OUE.
But only at recently-launched Meadesmoore – and sister steakhouse FBG, where he started last year – was he given free reign to focus on unusual cuts.
“At bigger establishments, people still want their tenderloin and stuff like that. Previously there was a lack of interest in secondary cuts, so it was a hard sell,” he says. “Now, people are more adventurous.”
Loy is keen to debunk the myth that secondary cuts are the inferior, leftover bits of cow that people don’t want. Meadesmore, for one, uses wagyu beef.
In fact, the restaurant must source its meat from a variety of farms – including ones in Australia, Spain and the US – because, Loy says, “there’s only so little quantity”. Supply is limited, and for very tasty cuts, the chef has to put in orders two to four months in advance.
“Sometimes I’ll tell a supplier I need 150 kilos for the month. They might say they only have 72 kilos!” Loy recounts. “For example, with hanging tender, one cattle only has two loins, and cattle need time to mature. So if all they have is 72 kilos, we’ll just take it.”
So for someone keen to go out and order such a cut – or buy one to cook at home – the next question is: how to pick?
Loy ranks cuts by ‘funkiness’. “Each cut is unique and has different flavours, because each part of the muscle functions differently. Some could be funkier than the rest. Even the metallic taste, from iron in the blood, is different. It’s like a whiskey flight: you have entry level, intermediate and then advanced,” he says.
If you think all this requires a lot of explaining to an uninitiated customer, you’re right – and so Meadesmoore is mulling rolling out short, small-group workshops before meals. Chefs will bring out different cuts for diners to inspect and sample, so they can compare flavour profiles and mouthfeel for themselves.
The chef observes that, in fact, secondary cuts of meat have been mainstream for a long time – just not in steak form.
“Your shabu shabu, yakiniku joints are serving secondary cuts. If you go to a Mexican joint, the meat they use in fajitas and stuff is out of a skirt steak. Pastrami sandwiches are brisket. Then there’s oxtail stew,” he lists. “All these secondary cuts have been there all this time.”
But he’s encouraged by how diners are now more aware of these options, with some even asking for specific cuts. “Lately, everybody is all about sustainability,” he adds. “There’s so much effort put into growing a cow, we should maximise all of that meat.”
5 questions with: Victor Loy, executive chef, Meadesmoore
1. What’s your favourite cut?
Hanging tender. By the name you can tell this cut does nothing, just hang out, so it’s very tender. It’s covered with fat, and the muscle fibres are very thick. I love the metallic, liver-ish flavour, as it’s near the left kidney. Cuts nearer the bone taste more of marrow.
2. A good pick for beginners?
Flat iron. If you’re really out to test the quality then order your meat simple, not marinated.
3. How do you know when a steak’s been well cooked?
A good brown crust, the thickness which varies with different types of muscle. An clean doneness, not five levels of doneness in one steak. And meat that’s been well rested, although certain cuts do tend to hold their juice a bit longer.
4. Where can I buy cuts for home?
Everybody knows Huber’s Butchery at Dempsey. Little Farms is doing their own butchery as well in Joo Chiat. And try Butcher Box just opposite that, they process everything for you.
5. Three steakhouses you recommend?
Luke’s Oyster Bar and Chop House does simple things right. I love Le Bouchons at Ann Siang, I still go there from time to time. And of course, FBG.