Erling Jensen greeted me with a smile as I arrived at his Cordova home. I soon found the reason for the smile: In spite of his culinary prowess, Erling is very much someone who needs taking care of -- and his wife Patti is more than obliging. In fact, Erling doesn't lift a finger in the kitchen at home. Patti does all the cooking.
The two met in the restaurant business: Erling was at La Tourelle and Patti worked at Paulette's. Then, when Erling started his own restaurant, he snagged Patti for his front of house. It wasn't too long before Patti noticed that Erling wasn't taking good care of himself: He worked long hours, always staying until the restaurant closed for the night, and for dinner, he would take home scraps of bacon, hot dogs, and cheese. Patti took it upon herself to bring Erling dinner -- fried fish from Captain D's or Kentucky Fried Chicken, admittedly not the healthiest of choices, but better than the leftovers he was eating.
Then, she started making him real dinners. In the beginning, Patti was nervous. She claims that she's not much of a chef, and anyone would be nervous to cook for someone with Erling's pedigree in the kitchen, so she looked up Martha Stewart recipes and prepared elaborate meals. But she soon realized that Erling is a man with simple needs: When he's not in the kitchen, he's a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. Forget roasted buffalo tenderloin with morels or crispy sweetbread with cranberry sauce: What Erling really enjoys is a grilled steak, brussels sprouts, and these days, if he's splurging, some potatoes.
When I arrived at the Jensens' house, Patti was preparing grilled flat-iron steak with maitre d' butter, steamed brussels sprouts, and diced potatoes. From his seat at the breakfast bar, Erling did some directing, but not much. Patti's knowledge of spices, she says, is limited to salt and pepper, so Erling helps out with the seasoning -- and with some of the basics. Justin Young, the executive chef at Erling's restaurant, and the rest of the kitchen staff also help Patti plan her meals. And she does her shopping at the restaurant, often bringing home fresh herbs -- parsley, dill, chives.
As the kitchen is Patti's, it doesn't have much in the way of fancy equipment, although she did replace the electric stove in the island with a gas stove and a grill. Her must-haves are a knife (any old knife will do), a cutting board, and a coffee pot.
In addition to steak, Patti is known for her chili, which she serves with hot dogs, clam chowder, and some Danish dishes, such as frikkedeller (ground pork meatballs) and red cabbage. On their days off, they go out for the occasional meal at favorites La Tourelle and Café 1912. Otherwise, it's a breakfast of espresso, a lunch of Red Bull, and dinner a la Patti for Erling Jensen.
Patti Jensen's Flat-Iron Steak with Maître d' Butter
This meal is a staple for Erling and Patti when they get home from the restaurant at night. They usually sit down to dinner around midnight.
12 oz. steak, any cut
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, whipped
1/2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
1/2 tbsp. fresh chopped dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Soften butter and blend with parsley, dill, salt and pepper, either by hand or in a food processor. Grill steak on high heat until cooked to preference. Top steak with maître d' butter and serve with steamed brussels sprouts and diced potatoes (to spice the potatoes up, add some diced chives or bacon crumbles).