Finding new life in the kitchen
By DAVE DEVALOIS
Farm News staff writer
NEVADA – A little more than three years ago, Derrick Black never would have imagined himself anywhere near the kitchen or the grill of a steakhouse in this county seat town of about 6,600 residents in Story County.
Black is a corn, soybean, alfalfa farmer and worked in a seed corn plant to help make ends meet. “I never had an inkling of this before about three years ago,” he said. Since 2005, Black has farmed with his father, Mike Black.
In the fall of 2007, Derrick Black and his wife, Shellie Black, started a restaurant from scratch – the Branding Iron – and his former hands-off approach to cooking and working in the kitchen made a complete 180 degree turn. “I had never been one to cook and now I can cook everything we have on our menu. It’s kind of neat to be able to do that. I do enjoy it. It’s a good experience,” Black said.
Shellie Black is the day-to-day manager of the restaurant and has an extensive background in food service and catering. Derrick Black simply jumps in to help wherever he’s needed, including taking over as cook and helping wait tables, bus dirty dishes or anything else that’s needed for a busy restaurant.
Because Shellie Black continues to work full time as a buyer for Iowa State University, Derrick Black spends much of his day at the restaurant, until she takes over for late afternoon and evening.
The Branding Iron, as the name suggests, is primarily a steakhouse and also does catering for events ranging from the media table for ISU athletics to rehearsal dinners and weddings. Black said ribeyes are the most popular cut of steak and a house seasoning adds a special flavor to all of the cuts. The restaurant also features smoked brisket and prime rib and homemade breaded tenderloin, which is the favorite item of Black’s to prepare.
“I enjoy making that. You pound it out and bread it and try to get that nice size that will fit on the bun,” he said.
Growing up on a farm, Black said he’s always enjoyed eating fresh beef, pork and chicken, but didn’t study the cuts of steak like he does now. “I don’t know all of the cuts of meat, but I do know quite a few,” he said. At the Branding Iron, most cuts of beef are custom cut to the Black’s standards.
One of the more difficult tasks for Black has been learning the nuances of cooking steaks and matching peoples’ perceptions of rare, medium rare, and well done to the cooking temperatures of each. As a cook, he is trained to use the thermometer to distinguish the difference between medium and rare, but customers almost always go by color. “Learning how to cook steaks has been really interesting. Everybody’s idea of what medium is is different. You get to know your repeat customers and how they like their steak or their burger,” he said.
Balancing a life as both a farmer and restauranteur takes dedication from many members of the family. In addition to Shellie and Derrick, stepdaughter Jackie Baker is the manager of the wait staff and nine-year old twins, Alexis and Samantha Black, assist by waiting on tables of good friends and regular customers, and washing dishes from time to time.
“We’re not home much anymore,” Derrick Black said. “We could almost be here every night of the week. We don’t have much time at home except to sleep, it seems like.”
Making time for the farming operation, particularly during planting and harvest, means putting trust in other managers at the restaurant. “The staff we’ve had in here has been here basically since we opened, so they know how it runs. At certain times of the year, they know that I’m going to be out,” This week for example, Black is already harvesting seed corn plots and will have a rare absence from the restaurant for most of the week.
The Blacks will celebrate their third year in business in November. Despite opening the restaurant in a difficult economic climate, they are headed in the right direction.
“It’s been stressful at times but we can see that we’ve kind of turned the corner now. We just keep moving forward,” he said.
Derrick shared one of their customers’ favorite recipes, the Branding Iron Baked Beans. This recipe is especially a favorite among catering customers.
1 10-ounce can baked beans
1 cup bacon bits
1 tablespoon of spicy mustard
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon horseradish
1/3 cup brown sugar
Mix all ingredients and cook for about an hour in a 275 degree oven.
Contact Dave DeValois at email@example.com.
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