Hector’s Deli chef and owner Dom Wilton appears to have a lot in common with Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, the lead character in the hit comedy-drama series The Bear.
If you’re not familiar with the show, it follows award-winning young chef Carmy (played by Jeremy Allen White), who leaves the high-pressure world of fine dining in New York City to take over his family’s chaotic Italian beef sandwich shop in Chicago. The Bear’s highly anticipated second season – which premieres in Australia on Disney+ on Wednesday July 19 – sees Carmy and his team navigate an all-consuming renovation of the rundown shop, culinary ambitions and personal relationships.
In similar fashion, Wilton trained at high-end dining institutions such as Stokehouse and Attica before opening Richmond sandwich shop Hector’s Deli (now with outposts in Fitzroy and South Melbourne as well). Like Carmy, he found himself applying his fine-dining background and skills to the humble sandwich – with all the same passion and attention to detail.
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“Five years ago, Hector’s had very little infrastructure or an understanding of how to build a business around people,” says Wilton. “What Hector’s is now is equal parts about the food and striving to be the best place to work … [and] a safe environment for our people.”
Anyone who lived in Melbourne in 2017 will know that Hector’s Deli was an instant hit when it first opened. Customers lined up around the block to get their hands on mammoth fried chicken schnitzel rolls, tuna and mushroom cheese toasties, and exceptional egg and bacon rolls – and the hype never quite died down.
“We created a blueprint for what sandwich shops would look like going forward,” says Wilton. “People gravitate towards something like a sandwich because it represents, simply, what we love about food: accessibility and bringing people together, and an overall kind of deliciousness rather than getting caught up in the intricacy of it all.”
To celebrate the return of The Bear, Wilton is collaborating with Broadsheet on a limited-edition “Hector-fied” version of Chicago’s iconic hot beef sandwich – available for one weekend only this July at Hector’s Deli Fitzroy. In signature Hector’s fashion, it’s made using old-school techniques and is packed with flavour.
First off, high-quality topside beef – sourced from Prahran Market’s Gary’s Meats – is rubbed in spices and cooked in an old-school jus. The beef is sliced as thinly as possible, a tip Wilton picked up from his native Chicagoan uncle-in-law Stephen, who, after he saw a picture of Wilton’s first sandwich test, sternly advised him: “Beef is shaved here. Sliced super thin. Stacked high.”
The beef, still dripping in juices, is then stuffed into a soft, house-made hoagie roll. To give the sandwich its kick and a bit of texture, it’s layered thickly with hot giardiniera (a pickled, acidic veg condiment), along with green peppers.
“The sandwich is just the balance between that kind of fatty meatiness dripping with the jus,” says Wilton. “We thought, what are we going to do to liven it up? Perfect, let’s put giardiniera on it.” Finally, the roll is spooned over with more beef jus for extra flavour.
For the most part, Wilton wants the sandwich to be faithful tribute to the kind that Carmy makes in The Bear. But he’s added a few of his own touches, too, including horseradish cream (a Hector’s staple) and provolone cheese (which even Chicago delis sometimes use). As for the hoagie itself, it’s 100 per cent sourdough (“a Melbourne twist on a classic,” he says).
“We haven’t gone outside of what we feel an Italian or Chicagoan might actually add themselves. It’s a tweak on [the original] sandwich, but there’s probably a nonna out there who might do the same thing.”
The limited-edition sandwich is available for just four days, from Thursday July 20 to Sunday July 23, exclusively at Hector’s Deli in Fitzroy. Only limited numbers will be available each day, with same-day pre-orders opening at 8am on the Hector’s Deli website – it’s first online, best dressed. You can only pre-order on the same day you’re picking it up, with time slots throughout the day to choose from. Then head in at your selected time and enjoy your The Bear-inspired sandwich.
Watch: How To Make Hector’s Deli’s Hot Italian Beef Sandwich, Inspired by The Bear
According to Dom Wilton, there are two essential components to the tender, mouth-watering sandwich made famous in the first season of The Bear: acidified vegetables for spicy giardiniera, and super thin, dripping beef in gravy. We meet Wilton in his kitchen to show us how the pros do it.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Disney. Stream the new season of FX’s The Bear on Disney+ from Wednesday July 19.