Wagyu or Japanese beef has the same luxury status as caviar in the culinary world.
There was a time (Edo period) when Japan was pretty much isolated from the rest of the world, that ensured purity of Wagyu cow breeds, which were reared specifically for their supreme flavour.
“Wagyu was only let out of Japan in the early 80s,” said Australian steak maestro and executive chef Chris Wade.
“Six cows were led out to the US and they thought the female was infertile, but when it got there, it got pregnant. The genetics were bought and brought to Australia by a fellow called David Blackmore,’’ he said.
A ribeye wagyu steak costs about Sh38,000 and if you are dining in Australia it will have come from David Blackmore’s farm, which has been in the trade for 25 years, or Sher Wagyu.
In Kenya, Wagyu is rare.
Chef Wade explains that the higher the marble score, the more fat the Wagyu has, the fuller the flavour, the more buttery it will taste and hence the more expensive it is.
“The marble score nine costs about Sh11,300 a kilo,” he said.
“My steaks at the restaurant range from the grass-fed ones priced at Sh3,000 up to Sh38,000. We have a very high-end Asian clientele in Melbourne who appreciate and pay top dollar for the best. I like to use the analogy—some people drive a Ferrari and some drive a Datsun. I serve both to cater for everyone,” the chef said.
Part of the reason for the high cost of Wagyu has to do with the breeding, and these cows are already prepositioned to have marbling depending on how they are reared.
“With my ribeyes, for instance, the marble score can go from two to nine and nine plus. The cows are all on pasture for the first 18 months of their life, then they go into a feeding programme and the special ration of feed they get depends on the company,” he said.
Some cows are grain-fed for 400 days, others 550 days, and some 650 days.
‘‘It’s a four-year process before the meat gets to the restaurant. I get the glory in cutting it, grilling and serving it to customers who can appreciate it for what it is,” said the chef who was introducing the Japanese beef to Kenyans.
When it comes to cooking the meat, he insists that how you would make a Sh3,000 steak is no different from a Sh30,000 steak.
“You oil it, then add some salt and pepper. Because the Wagyu has a lot of fat in it, it actually cooks faster. The fat heats up a lot faster than the meat does and if you were to leave it in the char grill for too long, the fat will drip and the meat will catch fire. We get nice caramelisation and grill marks on our steaks, then they go into the oven.”
He also advises against aging the meat.
“It’s like when you drive a Ferrari out of the showroom, it’s ready to go. With grass-fed or lower marbled meat, you could, but I actually don’t like aging the meat because I think it taints it. But it’s different for everyone because I’m for instance not a blue cheese fan, I’m more of a cheddar guy.”
Chef Wade was in Nairobi as part of his world tour to open the wagyu meat supply chain to Kenya, targeting high-end hotels with fine dining menus.
“The clean, green and sustainable side of what we have in Australia is great, so why not share it with the world? I also have my own range of Australian native products like salts, oils, liquid caviar, Australian wagyu charcuterie and dried fruit products that we’ve brought on the world tour. Next, we’re looking to visit Dubai, Cape Town and Lagos,” he said.