A Kvetch About Kobe
We cannot think clearly about things until we call them what they are. – George Orwell
Let’s talk about Kobe and “Kobe” beef for a minute, shall we?
A FB friend (let’s call him Don) writes:
So….I was at Le Cirque the other night where they were charging an extra $140 for a wagyu ribeye which in the description was noted as “kobe” (yes, the quotes were included in the description). The waiter says this is real kobe beef. I questioned that since it is my understanding that real kobe never leaves Japan. I’m thinking I’m wrong or this waiter just thought I was some dumbass hick. Any thoughts?
Why yes, Don, I do have some thoughts and here they are:
The picture at the top of the page is true, Japanese, A-4 wagyu beef, certified as such by the Japanese Meat Grading Association, and available at CUT (where the picture was taken) for $165 for a strip steak, or $175 for an 8 oz. rib eye.
This meat has not been available in the United States for the past several years (due to an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease), but our government’s ban has now been lifted and our luxury restaurants (like CUT, Le Cirque, et al) started stocking prime cuts of this fatty cattle last week.
Le Cirque has informed me that their beef is graded A-5, which means slightly higher marbling, and their steaks run $142 for a six ounce filet or $192 for a ten ounce rib eye.
CUT Executive Chef Mathew Hurley showed me his rib eye cut, and spoke of how its more speckled mottling of fat:
True A-4 rib eye
…is desirable for the tenderness it brings to the beef, while the more striated fat in the top picture leads to (slightly) more chewiness — chewiness being the thing that is frowned upon in these steaks, which, like 0-toro tuna, are supposed to practically melt in your mouth. (It’s an Asian texture-thing, just go with it.)
So the answer is: yes, you’re getting true Japanese wagyu beef (which may or may not actually come from the Hyogo Prefecture) but which the Japanese official board that controls these things has certified as being of that top quality. (BTW: wagyu is just the generic name for “beef cattle” in Japan — it is decidedly not a breed (no matter what the American Wagyu Association tells you) — and has no special significance, that is, until fraudulent American and Australian marketers got a hold of the concept. More on this below.)
The kicker in all of this (at least before we get to all the fraudulent marketing practices involving “domestic Kobe” and “American wagyu”) is that there’s a BIG secret that no steakhouse or fancy burger joint wants you to know, and that is: you really wouldn’t like true Japanese Kobe or Mishima beef if you ever tasted it. It’s too rich for you and basically flavorless at the same time. Quite a paradox I know, but one that lies at the heart of many an inscrutable Japanese meal (or foodstuff).
Now to fraud. Or as I like to say: the American government’s legal sanctioning of lying . As author Larry Olmsted points out in this excellent analysis of the “Kobe” beef phenomenon, the American government has, for over 100 years, passed laws that legalize and encourage the fraudulent labeling of foods, especially when those foods involve famous foreign products. This is why you can buy fake “Parmesan” cheese, fake “Chablis” wine, fake “Champagne” and fake prosciutto here. As Olmsted says: “Anywhere else in the world you would go to jail for selling (these)… here you can make a profit.”
As for “wagyu” beef and other gimmicks used to add snob dollars to the price of steaks, the issue is slightly complicated, but boils down to this: any cattle breeder can take bull semen from any Japanese bull, impregnate his herd with it, and claim that his beef is “wagyu” and thus, better and worth more than the steaks coming from a regular, good old American steer. But it’s not, and you shouldn’t pay for it.
Kobe beef is merely the latest victim of American greed and duplicity. Perhaps, now that you can buy the actual Japanese Kobe-style and wagyu beef in America (at a price), every hambone waiter and greedy owner will be a little less eager to extol the virtues of their “domestic Kobe.” But I think not. If American avarice and stupidity hold true to form, the top down effect from our best steakhouses will be an increased interest in the real thing (by those who can afford it), followed by our national trait of happily overpaying for something that claims to be “just like it,” even though we know, and they know, and they know that we know, that it’s not.
In The Palazzo Hotel and Casino
3339 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109