Filet mignon is a French culinary term that means dainty or small fillet. In the United States, this term refers to the fact that filet mignon is cut from the smallest end of a beef tenderloin. The head of the tenderloin is connected to the sirloin muscle and can be sliced thin and pounded with a meat mallet to produce carpaccio (raw steak) while the small triangular end is is used for filet mignon. Since this cut has a mild flavor, it’s often wrapped in bacon prior to being pan seared and finished in an oven.
Although Americans associate filet mignon with beef, in France a diner who orders this cut will receive a cut from a pork tenderloin. Anyone visiting France who wants a filet from beef tenderloin should order a Tournedo. Why is there a difference in the application of this culinary term? No one really knows.
The French have a lot of influence over western cuisine. Prior to the French revolution of 1789, the French Royal Court and the aristocracy had invested a lot of resources in developing the Culinary Arts. Food not only had to taste good but all plating presentations had to be exquisite. After King Louis and a lot of the aristocracy were executed by vengeful mobs, a lot of chefs left France to seek employment. This ultimately had the effect of exporting French culinary skills to other countries. Many of the remaining chefs began opening restaurants where they used their skills to serve the masses as opposed to just the aristocracy.
This French culinary influence is still seen in Culinary Arts. The term “restaurant” is from the French restaurer which means to restore. Diners at restaurants restore their energy through the consumption of food and drink.
The use of a kitchen brigade system where a restaurant is run by an executive chef and assisted by sous chefs who work together to oversee chefs de partie (station chefs) is French. The culinary uniforms we wear in the kitchen including the toques worn by chefs is French. Many of the culinary terms that we routinely use in the kitchen including the concept of mise en place, having everything ready to cook or bake before staring production are also French. Even the term “chef” is French. It literally translates as “head” as in the person who is in charge.
As near as I can determine, when American butchers and chefs adapted French culinary terms to describe cuts of beef, the American culinary focus on beef caused them to appropriate a culinary term that had previously been applied to pork. Why they did not emulate the French by calling a filet mignon a tournedo is a mystery.
Filet mignon is incredibly expensive because each cow only produces up to one pound of this particular cut. As of 2021, this particular cut costs anywhere from $35 to $153 per pound depending upon the grade of beef (prime, choice, or select) and whether or not it’s organic.
Given how expensive filet mignon is, I’ve never purchased this cut for use with my advanced culinary students. Although the constraints of my budget typically force me to work with ground beef or most cost effective cuts like round steak, during the 2020-2021 school year after my district transitioned from virtual instruction to hybrid, I found myself with just 4-6 students in each of my advanced classes as opposed to the usual 12-16. Since my budget remained the same as it had been the previous year, I had more funds to expend per student than I had ever had during any of the preceding years.
Since I needed to expend my budget prior to ending the school year I purchased boneless ribeye steaks for my advanced students. I then did a live demonstration in each class for how to season a steak and to sear it over high heat prior to finishing it in the oven. Each student was then responsible for cooking his or her own steak. Although each person also had a printed recipe, three students in one class were successful in cooking their steaks. One student seared her steak and after placing a pot lid over the saute pan, she forgot to turn down the heat or to put the pan in the oven. The steak continued to cook over high heat.
I didn’t notice the problem until I saw black smoke rising from one of the stations. The steak was burnt to a blackened mass by the time I got to it. The smoke detectors went off and the fire alarm was triggered. For the first time in my career as a Culinary Arts instructor we had to evacuate the entire school because of a kitchen mishap. Although a phone call to the office was able to cancel the response of the fire department, the assistant principal later had some harsh words to later share with me about my alleged lack of supervision. Since he chose to share his opinions at the top of his voice in the kitchen in front of my students after the all clear had been sounded, I was completely mortified. His use of inappropriate language did not help.
Over the following week this verbal abuse was followed by an escalating series of hostile emails in which the AP suggested that I was unprofessional, not dedicated, and completely uncaring. He alleged that my students didn’t like me and concluded that I was in desperate need of a personality makeover. Since I am autistic, this latter comment was particularly hurtful since I am already working at the limits of my capability.
I complained to the principal via email about the assistant principal’s unprofessional behavior. After a week without any reply, I filed a complaint with the area superintendent’s office as well as the teachers’ union to allege that the AP was creating a hostile work environment. Although the superintendent’s office remained silent, I was told by a union rep that I was one of several teachers who had filed a formal complaint about the assistant principal. While I don’t know what happened behind closed doors, I do know that the AP resigned before the start of the 2021-2022 school year much to the relief of a great many teachers including yours truly.
To make a filet mignon bacon wrapped steak candle, I first poured steak colored and scented wax into a steak mold. After the wax was set, I used a ring mold to cut a round. I then painted bacon colored and scented wax around the steak and used the end of a paper clip to carve a gap between the side of the steak and the bacon. The illusion of moist beef was created using medium density candle gel which I then painted over with a glossy water based candle lacquer. A baby carrot and baby corn were added as a garnish. The result is pictured below.
This candle smells of beef, bacon, and garlic.
As with so many of my candles, this was a production test model just to see if I could do it. Given how time consuming it was to make this, it’s unlikely that I will make more.