The plan was never to become one of the country’s most celebrated chefs. In fact, he never even intended to get into the restaurant business at all. For 43-year-old Randy Armstrong, there was only ever one objective: to get revenge on some cows. Now, just over one year later, his restaurant has its first Michelin star, and he’s quickly carving out his place at the top of the culinary world.
But how did it all happen?
The beginning of Armstrong’s incredible journey can be traced back to a brisk night in December 2013, somewhere on the outskirts of Norman, OK. Armed with nothing but a sledgehammer and a vague conviction that he needed to put some cows in their place, he hopped the fence of a commercial feedlot and began whaling on every steer within his reach.
The rest, as he tells it, is history.
“Even though I had all these dead cows around me, I realized I was still angry—I didn’t feel like I’d gotten even,” he explained. “So I loaded a bunch of carcasses into my truck and went home.”
Upon arriving at his house, he came to the conclusion that revenge was a dish best served medium rare, reasoning that if he cooked the cattle and ate them, he’d finally feel vindicated. But after cooking one of the cows, he encountered a new problem: it tasted terrible. So he did what anyone else would do in his situation and spent weeks obsessively training himself in advanced culinary techniques.
“Once I figured out how to make the cows taste good, I felt like I was finally giving them their comeuppance,” he said. “But then it turned out that I had way more cows than I could possibly eat on my own.”
“And if I just let all those cows sit there and rot on my property, taking up all my space, I’d be letting them get the last laugh,” he continued. “I did the only thing that made sense and invited all my neighbors over to eat some beef.”
He hosted a giant cookout for his family, friends, and neighbors, and the general consensus was that his dishes were unbelievably delicious—better than anything his guests had ever tasted. Unfortunately, the cost of all the supplies and preparation that went into putting on the meal left Armstrong in the red, and he couldn’t sleep at night knowing that the cows were bankrupting him from beyond the grave.
“The cows were winning, and I couldn’t let that happen,” he said. “So I started a restaurant.”
Taking out a lease on an unassuming, 2,100-square-foot space in midtown Manhattan, Armstrong hired a small kitchen team and waitstaff, and quickly opened the doors on Les Vaches Honteuses, named for a French phrase meaning “The Disgraceful Cows.” Right away, it was enormously well-received by diners and food critics, with countless websites and magazines praising the restaurant’s commitment to its concept and its bare-bones take on upscale cuisine.
The accolades poured in, and reservations became all but impossible to get. And then, in November, Armstrong learned that he was being awarded a prestigious Michelin star—an honor that he’d never even heard of until it was bestowed upon his restaurant. While entirely unexpected, it turns out the distinction was just what Armstrong needed to feel like he had beaten the bovines.
“Now that I have a Michelin star, I know I’ve gotten retribution,” he said. “To have people feast on the flesh of your enemies and then give you distinguished awards for it—this is every man’s dream.”