‘Steak Master’

Farragut chef captures regional title

A 28-year-old chef at Turkey Creek’s LongHorn Steakhouse should be proud to wear his red chef’s coat nowadays as Regional Steak Master champ.

He was one of nearly 5,000 members of LongHorn’s culinary team who were invited to participate in written tests and grill-offs to earn the title of “Steak Master.”

Across the country, all 490 LongHorn locations selected a representative for the regional round. In this region, Bernard Mullen was one of the competitors at the restaurant level. He competed with other steak chefs at the Turkey Creek location. At the same time, chefs at each of the other East Tennessee LongHorn restaurants were competing among themselves, too, all with the goal of going on to compete at the regional level. With eight restaurants in this region and 14 or 15 chefs competing at each restaurant, more than 100 steak experts were battling to be named Regional Steak Master.

“Each one of the contestants was required

to study and know as much as possible,” said

Stephen Coley, managing partner at the Turkey Creek store.

Each restaurant chose one winner who would go on to the regional competition held here in Farragut.

Ultimately, the day of the contest, June 2, arrived. Chefs from Cleveland, Sevierville, Chattanooga and Hixson poured in, along with their managers, judges and the regional director.

“When they came, they had a written test and did a manual test,” Coley said. “They cooked the steaks in front of us and we got to grade them. It was a slew of different steaks.”

“I felt tremendous pressure,” said Mullen, the 6-foot, 7-inch father of three young daughters.

The kitchen was full of judges and onlookers as he juggled four steaks — two on the grill and two over open flame.

When it was all said and done, Mullen won and was named the region’s No. 1 Steak Master. This is the second year for the Steak Master Series, and Mullen is one of just 59 from across the country to achieve this distinction.

What’s the secret to a perfect steak?

“The correct cut of meat,” he said. “My perfect steak would be a filet with a salt, pepper, garlic and paprika seasoning. The paprika adds color.”

Mullen said he likes watching TV chefs.

“Gordon Ramsay — I love him,” he said. “Alton Brown, too. He’s my favorite celebrity chef, more than Gordon Ramsay. Gordon Ramsay will tell you how to cook something and Alton Brown will do the same thing, but he gives you the science behind it.”

His real cooking inspiration, though was his mother, Dawn.

My mom, she was more of a baker than anything,” he said. “I’ve never been able to bake, but she inspired me to get in the kitchen and try things.”

Anytime there was a field trip from school, he said, she’d sell some baked goods in Clinton where he grew up, to pay for the trip.

“I’ve been working in a restaurant since I was 14,” he said. “I started in a Chinese restaurant called China Inn in Clinton. I washed dishes there for a little while and graduated to the wok. From there I transferred to Zaxby’s and worked as a manager out there. I stopped briefly to try landscaping and Mayfield’s, but I ended up back cooking. It’s a passion.”

“One of the key words he just used is passion,” said Alan Faingold, store manager. “It just gets in your blood. It’s the ultimate people business. There’s a whole picture of talking to guests and serving them the perfect food.”

Faingold added that LongHorn steaks are almost exactly the same price as competitors.

“I remember the first time I made a steak for LongHorn,” Mullen said. “Trainer Braxton — he was a big guy from Georgia. I had to look up to him and I’m 6[-foot-]7 myself. He taught me everything I needed to know.”

Mullen has new culinary territories to conquer. Next year he’s planning to win the regional competition and go on to the nationals.

I’m going after it again. I’m not going to let that slip away from me next year,” he said.

In the meantime, he’ll be cooking steaks at work and at home for his wife, Victoria, and for his daughters, Ally, 8, Cay-Lynn, 8, and Kianna, 5.

Coley and Faingold say they are thrilled with Mullen.

“When I come into my shift and see Bernie on my staffing list,” Faingold said, “I know I’m going to have a great shift because I have a caring steak master who is going to take care of my guests.”

Although Faingold isn’t originally from this area, he said he loves Farragut and has become part of the community, including helping local nonprofits.

“We donated 22,000 pounds of protein and vegetables to the local food harvest last year and up to 10,000 pounds this year so far,” Stephens said. “We donated to the Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley lunch for those students with funds raised by the staff and have a fund drive going now to do the same again this year. Every year our staff also decides on a local charity that we focus all our time and effort on and generally donate either food or clothing to those in need.”