House Rules: Prairie Meadows’ Executive Chef Talks Wine, Food & Inspiration

Executive Chef Carl Eskridge has been leading the culinary team at Prairie Meadows for nearly two years. He shares with us his personal inspiration, favorite meals, wine pairings, and even some cooking tips.

Where did you work prior to coming to Prairie Meadows?

I have opened and worked in multiple casinos, resorts, and restaurants. Before coming to Prairie Meadows, I created, from the ground up, a 12-tap brewery in Michigan featuring Texas style BBQ. I also opened the dining establishments at Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Pennsylvania, was the executive chef for one of the largest hotel/resorts in Ohio and have worked at multiple Michigan casinos.

Executive Chef Carl Eskridge

Why did you become a chef? What motivated you to be in the culinary arts?

When I was around 10 years old, I remember cooking crepes with my mother. Crepes aren’t a difficult thing to make, but I really got excited about cooking around that time. Making crepes progressed into preparing massive family meals for the holidays with my grandmothers using old school, from-scratch recipes. Creating these meals really opened my eyes to the culinary world and how you can make people happy through food…that, for me, was the beginning of wanting to become a chef.

My motivation for pursuing culinary arts came from the excitement and everchanging worlds of food and beverage. The creativity involved with food preparation and providing guests with a memorable experience really excites me. This is a stressful and taxing industry. The passion, sense of accomplishment, and gratitude that comes from being on a culinary team inspires me daily. Building and leading a team and to have comradery in the kitchen is motivating as well. We constantly challenge one another every day to become better cooks, chefs, friends, and family. At the end of the day, I consider being a chef challenging and rewarding, both of which never end in this industry.

What is your favorite meal to prepare at home?

Anything on the grill or any southern staple, including Cajun-creole.

What is your favorite menu item to prepare at Prairie Meadows?

Currently, it’s AJ’s crab cakes. I grew up in Virginia and visited the Chesapeake Bay area often. Lump Blue Crab meat is delicious, delicate, and needs to be handled and prepared properly.

You’re serving USDA Prime beef at AJ’s Steakhouse. Give us some tips on how to properly season and prepare steaks at home.

Kosher or Sea Salt and fresh cracked black pepper are all you need on a good cut of beef. The preparation method I like best is direct, high heat to sear the outside. Searing brings out the natural sugars – caramelization — and retains the natural juices of the meat.

What wines would you pair with the USDA Prime entrées served at AJ’s?

Most beef recipes are filling and hearty, served with starchy side dishes like potatoes, rice, or bread. Very few beef dishes can be considered light, which is why red wines go so well with beef. If a beef dish has a strong, bold flavor, I try to select a wine that can stand up to the boldness. A basic rule when pairing wines with food is to put similar flavors together. Strong goes with strong, acidic with acidic, sweet with sweet, et cetera.

  • Beef grilled over charcoal will have an intensely smoky flavor. Choose a red wine that is rich and high in tannins to complement it. Try a Shiraz from California or Australia with your favorite steak.
  • Lean cuts of beef, such as filet mignon, taste better with a less tannic red wine. Go with a Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot. Best choices for these wines come from California, Spain, and Italy.
  • Prime rib, which is very rich and has fat marbled throughout, needs a young wine to cut through the flavor of the beef. Choose a Bordeaux from France or a Merlot that hasn’t been aged very long.
  • Stew, brisket, and ribs that have cooked slowly for hours take on a rich, earthy flavor. You’ll need a bold wine that can compete with the intensity of the dish. In this case, a slightly fruity red wine can be the perfect match. Go with a big Burgundy from France or a Zinfandel from Sonoma, California.

Rules were made to be broken, and not everyone agrees that similar flavors go together. For instance, sweet wines go well with spicy foods like beef curry. Some people prefer to pair opposite flavors together, and will pair a dry, acidic wine with a rich creamy sauce. At the end of the day, the choice is simply a matter of personal preference.

Do you have a favorite wine? What foods do you pair with it?

I traditionally prefer a Cabernet or Bordeaux. I will usually pair either of these wines with hearty, robust meals like prime steaks, braised short ribs, or wild game. However, I do like a buttery chardonnay or grassy sauvignon blanc with fish, chicken, or pork. 

What has been the most rewarding situation you have encountered while working at Prairie Meadows?

My co-workers and the opportunity to help build our current culinary team has been the most rewarding. In the food and beverage industry, we spend more of our time working with our co-workers than our families. To enjoy the job, building the right mix of team members makes the atmosphere, long hours, and hard work all worthwhile.

What has been the most challenging?

COVID-19!!  The closure and reopening of Prairie Meadows and our dining outlets has been challenging. We continue to move forward daily in developing and navigating through protocols to keep everyone healthy and safe, while striving to consistently provide a great guest experience at Prairie Meadows.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring chefs?

Be prepared for hard work, long hours, and to work while your friends play. However, when you put forth the effort, are dedicated, and show your passion, becoming a chef can be one of the most rewarding careers one can have.  “Aspire to inspire before you expire.”

Executive Chef Carl Eskridge oversees culinary direction of all Prairie Meadows’ dining establishments, including AJ’s Steakhouse.

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