To say I don’t get overexcited about food would be the understatement of the century. These days, a week doesn’t go by without me getting all fizzed up over some dish I saw on my Instagram feed, the thought of a new amazing restaurant opening in town, the prospect of the boyfriend getting creative on soup night (I’ve been promised dumplings in broth today).
Understandably, my nearest and dearest tend to tire of my never- ending flow of excited WhatsApp messages bringing their attention to this video I just saw (pizza cooked with ice cubes anyone?) or that thing that Italian Chef Extraordinaire Massimo Bottura just said to American food superstar David Chang (definitely going to try my hand at making kimchi lasagna).
There are two different trends that, of late, I have noticed have really been clogging up my feed. One is something I have labelled “cheese porn” and the other, a global obsession with that beautifully fatty Japanese Wagyu beef. I shall save a conversation for the merits, or lack thereof, of cheese porn for another time and take a moment to focus my attention, instead, on this most fetishised of beef cuts.
For those of you who live under a rock, far, far away from the visual delights of foodie social media feeds and are not familiar with this global beef phenomenon, let me explain: Wagyu beef is derived from four different types of Japanese cattle with “wa” translating as Japanese and “gyu” as cow. This breed of cattle was originally reared in Japan for use in agriculture and steeds were selected to achieve maximum physical endurance while out ploughing the fields. According to the American Wagyu Association, this, “selection favoured animals with more intra-muscular fat cells – “marbling” – which provided a readily available energy source”. So basically Wagyu beef stands out from other beef in the extremely obvious white tentacles of fat that stretch out like an intricate river of veins on the cross-section of its cuts of steak.
It goes without saying that fattier cuts of beef release more juices when cooked and the resulting steak is more tender and flavoursome than your regular hunk of meat from the butcher. But it turns out those are not the only reasons to celebrate these Japanese cows. Korean scientists have successfully proven that “high quality marbled beef not only has excellent eating quality but also contains a lot of beneficial fatty acids”. Add that to the other research that shows how wagyu beef has high levels of good monounsaturated fat which is now celebrated as being good for us (in moderation like everything else, of course) and it looks like there is more to the trend than just a visual obsession with marbled beef.
Which brings me to my opening gambit on getting excited about foods. When, the other day, I found out that Sierra Brasserie, of delicious steak fame, was going to be serving Kenyan-reared Wagyu beef steaks for this year’s NRW, I almost fainted with pleasure. Which didn’t even begin to prepare me for the next piece of news: I was going to be one of the few people to get to sample these prized steaks before the actual event. Rarely has my job given me quite so much of a thrill in the space of thirty seconds.
And so it was that on the day, my two colleagues who managed to secure a slot at this very prized lunch table, the photographer and I, were treated to a full Kenya-reared Wagyu beef experience. Although the beef that we ate was not, as chef Alan Murungi explained “purebred Japanese Wagyu” but a cross breed between Wagyu and Simmental cattle that began as an experiment 6 years ago when Murungi imported some Wagyu semen from Australia (the second biggest Wagyu rearing country after Japan), the results really were as amazing as promised.
Look I could get into a long-winded explanation here. I could tell you that we did a blind test between a delicious aged Borana steak and the Kenyan Wagyu (see first image) and that the Wagyu stood out in terms of flavour, colour, texture and tenderness. I could tell you what it felt like to have the tiny rivulets of flavour-packed fat coursing over my expectant taste buds. But I think the most important takeaway from this is that Sierra Brasserie will be serving deliciously moist Wagyu Beef burgers for the ten days of Restaurant Week and then that’s it. Finito. No more Kenyan-reared Japanese beef for who knows how long (something like 6 months Murungi told me but he was suitably vague about it all). If I were you, I’d get booking fast.
Katy Fentress was invited to discover Kenyan-reared Wagyu beef at Sierra Brasserie in Brookside, Nairobi, by chef and owner Alan Murungi
This article was originally published in Yummy Magazine
Photos by Peter Ndung’u