The Sizzle Continues: Chef Dennis Denk

Image: Janine Essey

Among the most respected upscale restaurant brands worldwide, Ruth’s Chris Steak House is known for consistently delivering mouth-watering steaks in a luxurious yet accessible atmosphere. After all, there is nothing quite like the sizzle of a Ruth’s Chris steak that’s been hand cut and cooked to perfection. But any restaurant – even one with as accomplished a reputation as Ruth’s Chris – would be nothing without the people who propel the brand’s internal drive for excellence.

The restaurant was first established at PPG Place in 1987 by Jack and Peggy Offenbach and is currently owned and operated by their son, Scott Offenbach, a seasoned restaurateur. Executive chef Dennis Denk and veteran general manager Patrick Bachtell complete the management team, which together lead this Pittsburgh favorite to success night after night.

We took the opportunity to sit down for a culinary close up with Denk, inquiring about his personal culinary journey and his insights into what makes the Ruth’s Chris experience so special.

Denk, a self-trained chef, began cooking in high school. His inital motivation was not based on a love of the culinary arts but rather on the need to survive. Luckily, the restaurant industry had plenty of jobs to spare. Before he knew it, he transformed his first job at the Red Bull Inn in Carnegie into a passion that launched him into a career that’s been thrilling taste buds for decades.

Denk shared many memorable moments from his long career, but perhaps none so unforgettable as training with founder of the brand, Ruth Fertel, herself.  “Prior to our location opening 35 years ago, Ruth visited Pittsburgh and stayed here for three weeks to ensure everything met her expectations. She stayed in the kitchen, making sure the prime-aged steaks were cooked perfectly in her trademarked oven. Everything is done according to Ruth’s standards, and I learned them directly from her.”

If you ask Denk, he’ll tell you that he hasn’t achieved success by his masterful skills alone. Instead, he would probably speak to the fact that Ruth’s Chris sources only the best grade of beef for its custom-aged curing process. He also credits the excellence in execution by the team he manages – especially his line staff.

Speaking of kitchen staff, it is worth noting that, in an industry which typically sees unbelievably high turnover rates – especially in this newly-emerging “post-pandemic” world, Ruth’s Chris has a number of employees who, like Denk, have stayed since the very beginning.

Chef Denk reflected that in the end, “it’s really just meat and potatoes.” To a humble man like Dennis Denk, it may seem to be that simple, but to the steak connoisseur, Chef Denk is the man behind the scenes in an environment that has been transforming the basic into the unforgettable for more than three decades.

Outside the kitchen, the restaurant’s inviting décor, accented by the soft illumination of chandeliers, goes far in satisfying the eyes, while the signature sizzle of the steak presented on a plate heated to 500 degrees satisfies the ears. The texture of the steak, bursting with subtle levels of flavor, intoxicates the palate and the ensuing aroma holds captive the sense of smell. The entire experience is designed for the guest to sit back and enjoy the culinary ride of a lifetime.

Despite being known for their legendary steaks, Ruth’s Chris boasts a diverse menu featuring (of course) a multitude of cuts of beef, as well as pork, seafood, chicken, lamb, and vegetarian options. Generous appetizers and side dishes include seared ahi tuna, stuffed mushrooms, potatoes au gratin, grilled asparagus, and sweet potato casserole. To complete your meal, Chef Denk offers several desserts –  a popular finish being the appropriately-named chocolate sin cake.

Whether you choose a tried-and-true classic steak, or prefer something a bit more unexpected, you are sure to expereince warm hospitality and flavorful dishes from Chef Dennis Denk at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

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