I've never tasted Wagyu beef—considered the most expensive and most desired meat for it's dense marbling—let alone judged a competition that centred on this cut, but I found myself doing just that on a panel of judges at a recent Underground Chef Co event in Toronto.
The Japanese Government and Japanese Beef Association in partnership with the Underground Chef Co joined forces to help promote and educate the public on Wagyu beef. The most exclusive Wagyu in the world comes from Kobe, Japan where it's renowned for its superior flavour and tenderness, which comes from the intense amount of fat that helps keep it tender and heightens its taste.
The throwdown was hosted by chef Devan Rajkumar of Cityline and held in the open kitchen of Toronto restaurant Boehmer. The Battle of the Wagyu pitted two Toronto-based chefs against one another: Natshuiko Sugimoto of Guu Izakaya versus Daniel Ken of Blowfish. The mandate: each chef had to create four dishes in under an hour, using different cuts of Wagyu. They also had to incorporate a secret ingredient: burdock root.
Since I had never been this close to a piece of meat with a price tag worth more than my monthly rent, I was reeling with respect, awe and a little wonder. It was the most intensely marbled beef I'd ever seen. I could hardly see the light pink meat hiding between the web-like layers of fat. In fact, there was just enough meat to hold the fat together. Hello, Wagyu!
This was my first time eating Wagyu and I leaned more towards Natshuiko's dishes, as his natural approach let the flavour of the beef speak for itself. The words "meat butter" came to mind as slicing and chewing the tender beef was virtually effortless. And, similar to any foie gras experience, half the pleasure came from its exquisitely melting texture that fleetingly escapes before you've fully appreciated its complex flavour.
Any match demands a winner, but in this case I felt everyone came out on top. (When you get curiosity-driven, food-loving people in one room, competition and celebration become interchangeable.) But for those who must know, Blowfish won bragging rights that night. Daniel's sophisticated presentation and innovative use of ingredients, sauces and textures left me in no doubt he knows his way around Wagyu. His was a visual feast and, despite the dainty portions, the big round flavours left me sighing with satisfaction.