I was rooting through the freezer at work the other day and I was both happy and sad to run across a tenderloin of beef from Neola Farms. Happy, because this is about the finest piece of beef I’ve ever gotten my hands on. Beautiful deep red coloring, amazing marbling, clean flavor. But sad, because Neola Farms no longer exists, due to the untimely death of Michael Lenagar, the driving force behind the business.
I first met Michael at the Memphis Farmer’s Market in 2008. He was selling his beef out of the back of a refrigerated truck. I started talking to him and I was immediately struck by his enthusiasm and commitment to his trade. He spoke of his cattle as if they were part of the family and not just a commodity. He had a real passion for what he did and it showed in the way he marketed his beef. He did not want to be in all of the big name markets. He didn’t want to provide beef to all the restaurants in Memphis. He wanted to do business with other folks who understood and appreciated the history and the principals of his business.
I left the market that day with an armful of free beef samples, a newfound respect and appreciation for the burgeoning local food movement, and a new friend. Over the next few years Michael, and his wife Charlene, kept me well supplied with amazing beef. The untimely passing of Michael in July of 2011 was devastating to the Memphis restaurant and market community. The rigors of running the business without Michael were just too much for the Lenagar family and the operation was dissolved.
Michael and Charline were a testament to the old-fashioned notion of running a small business with integrity, respect, and humanity as the guiding principals. Neola Farms was a shining example of how things used to be done, and an inspiration for those of us who believe that those principals are not entirely gone from this business. We miss you, Michael.
Neola Farms beef was so good that I didn’t even want to cook it.
One of my favorite preparations was a simple beef carpaccio.
- 8-10 ounces fresh center cut beef tenderloin, preferably hormone free and locally raised
- 1 small red onion
- juice of one lemon
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- soy sauce
- toasted sesame oil
- 1 ounce toasted sesame seeds
- Fried wonton chips
Wrap the beef in butcher paper and place in the freezer for about an hour. Remove from the freezer and slice paper thin on an electric slicer. This is the most efficient and easiest way to slice the beef. However I know that not everyone has a commercial slicer sitting around the kitchen. The next best technique is to slice the beef as thinly as possible, then lay it between two sheets of butcher paper and either gently pound it thin, or use a rolling pin to carefully roll it thin.
Lay the slices of beef in a single layer on four chilled plates.
Slice the onion into rings as thin as possible. Toss the onions in the lemon juice and allow them to marinate for several minutes. Whisk together the mayonnaise with soy sauce to taste and just a couple of drops of sesame oil.
Place the mayonnaise in a squeeze bottle or in a small baggie with the corner tip cut off. Drizzle the mayonnaise across the top of each carpaccio portion. Portion the marinated onions evenly on each plate. Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.
I like to use wonton chips but you could just as easily use a crostini of toasted baguette. I also like to add a little lightly dressed greens to the plate, especially arugula. The idea is to place a bit of the beef and all of the garnishes on a crusty bit of something and eat it that way.
This is a fabulous start to a summer meal.