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In the Kitchen With: Fire it up for ribeyes on the grill

In the Kitchen with Travis Tveit. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

Sweet potato purée adds a pop of color to this elegant grilled steak entrée by Travis Tveit of Wild Sage American Bistro in downtown Spokane.

He loves this dish because of its simplicity – and also its elevated presentation. Stacked steaks on a bed of bright orange topped with arugula look striking against white dinner plates.

Plus, they’re perfect for grilling season.

And the combination of sweet potatoes, peppery greens, cheese shavings and balsamic drizzle lets home cooks look like they know how to plate like professionals.

Tveit, 26, created the simple but stunning dish for a private party while catering for clients at a golf course in Arizona. Now a pastry chef in his hometown, he still caters private parties on the side and dreams of someday owning his own restaurant in the Inland Northwest.

Now, however, it’s time to get grilling.

Prep starts with the sweet potatoes, boiled in salted water – “just like mashed potatoes” – with a bay leaf for added fragrance. Once they’re fork-tender and well-drained, Tveit purées them with salt and pepper, heavy cream and stock. If not using homemade, he prefers organic, low-sodium stock. Tveit starts with a couple ounces of both, and adds more as needed, depending on desired consistency.

For the ribeye steaks, he uses a simple seasoning of salt, pepper and olive oil, letting them sit a bit before placing them on the grill.

“I wouldn’t go over medium on these,” he said. “Of course, it’s personal preference.”

The Spokane native graduated from Central Valley High School in 2007, then took classes – he said “aimlessly” – at Spokane Community College for a bit before deciding to attend culinary school in Portland. He graduated from the Oregon Culinary Institute in 2011.

“Cooking is not hard for me,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always been able to do.”

Tveit was inspired by the food scene in Portland, where he worked at a French bistro before moving onto DeCarli, a fine-dining Italian restaurant in Beaverton, Oregon, where Tveit cooked for the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Phil Knight, owner and founder of Nike.

From there, he moved to Arizona, where he worked at the Gallery Golf Club northwest of Tucson and started catering private parties for members. That’s where this recipe came from.

Tveit was inspired by simply dressed Mediterranean salads, skipping freshly cracked pepper in the dressing because of the spiciness of the greens. He prefers hard Grana Padano cheese from Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. It’s comparable to Parmigiano Reggiano or Parmesan cheese. Balsamic vinegar, aged 30 years and reduced, adds a sweet, syrupy tanginess to the entrée.

Tveit’s Grilled Ribeye with Sweet Potato Puree and Arugula Salad isn’t on the menu at Wild Sage. He’s worked there two years come August. And he loves it.

But he’s gone before diners arrive. Tveit’s shift runs from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. He wakes at 5 to make all of the restaurant’s breads, hamburger buns and famed coconut cake.

“I didn’t have any pastry experience before I came here,” he said. “I didn’t have any baking experience.”

Tveit started at Wild Sage as a line cook and has been baking since last June. Six months later, Food Network flew him to California to compete on an episode of “Guy’s Grocery Games.” He applied on a whim one weekend, he said, and was surprised and happy when a representative contacted him the next day.

Tveit appeared on episode GK0901H, which aired March 20. In case you missed, he didn’t win. In fact, he didn’t make it past the first round.

“It was super stressful, and I felt like I was going to puke the whole time,” he said. But, “It was great. It was fun. I got to meet Guy Fieri. He is cool. He makes jokes and stuff. He is fun to hang out with.”

Tveit appeared in the first round of an episode titled “Budget Games Blowout.” Four contestants were challenged to make an “elevated sandwich” using ingredients that cost under $4.

Tveit’s strategy was to keep it simple so he wouldn’t run out of time. His idea: a Caprese panini on grilled foccaccia bread.

“It’s a classic,” Tveit said.

Mozzarella was too expensive. So he used provolone instead. He also used pre-made dressing, a move the judges didn’t like.

“It was too basic, and that really bums me out because I went there thinking, ‘Don’t overdo it. Keep it simple. Don’t try to do too much,’” said Tveit, who was cast for “Cutthroat Kitchen,” too, but didn’t go. It was too soon after the other show, he said, which was “crazy stressful.

“I got really, really overwhelmed with my job and thinking about being on TV,” Tveit said. But, “The next time I do it, I know what to expect. I won’t be so much like a fish out of water.”

Tveit plans to apply again in the near future.

“I’m not done trying to be on TV,” he said. “I would love to go back on that show. I absolutely would do it again. They have a round for people who lost first round. I want to win the money, and I want to show myself that I can do that.”

If he won the cash, he said he would use it as seed money for the restaurant he wants to someday start in Spokane.

“My whole family’s here. All my friends are here. Everybody’s here,” he said.

“I’m fine where I am now. I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. I’m super comfortable. It’s a great place to work. And I’m young. But I know that’s the direction I’m eventually going to go in.”

Grilled Ribeye with Sweet Potato Puree and Arugula Salad

By Travis Tveit of Wild Sage American Bistro

For the Sweet Potato Puree

2 quarts water, for boiling

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons, plus ½ teaspoon salt, divided

1 sweet potato

½ teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon butter

2 ounces heavy cream

2 ounces low-sodium chicken stock

For the steaks

2 (14-ounce) ribeye steaks

4 teaspoons olive oil, for rubbing

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

Juice from ¼ lemon

For the arugula salad

2 generous handfuls of arugula (about 6 ounces total)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt

30-year-aged and reduced balsamic vinegar (or reduced balsamic vinegar), for drizzling

Shaved Grana Padano cheese, for garnish

Make the sweet potatoes: Bring water with bay leaf and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil. Meantime, peel sweet potato and cut into same-sized pieces to ensure even cooking. Add the sweet potato pieces to the boiling water. Once the boil has returned, reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer until sweet potatoes are fork-tender, about 10 minutes.

Drain off the water and remove the bay leaf. Let the sweet potatoes sit in the basket of the strainer for a few minutes so they can fully drain. Then, place sweet potatoes into a food processor and season with remaining salt and pepper. Add butter, cream and chicken stock, and puree until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings, including stock, if needed.

Make the steaks: Put the steaks on a large plate and rub down each side with about a teaspoon of olive oil. Next, season the steaks with kosher salt and black pepper, about a half teaspoon of each per side. Grill seasoned steaks on medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes per side, or to desired doneness. Remove the steaks from the grill and let rest for about 5 minutes. Cut the steaks in half, and finish with lemon juice.

Make the salad: Add arugula to a medium mixing bowl. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Add salt. Carefully mix in bowl.

Plate this dish: Spoon sweet potato puree onto center of two plates and smear into a circle. Stack two steak halves atop puree. Top steaks with dressed arugula. Drizzle with aged (or reduced) balsamic vinegar and garnish with shaved Grana Padano cheese.

Yield: 2 servings