If you spend enough time around foodie friends with Japanese fetishes, you’ve doubtlessly been subjected to a tirade or two on how high-priced domestic beef that gets labeled “Kobe” almost anywhere outside of Japan is nothing but a damned lie (you’ll get this even if all you want to do is down a freaking burger). But today Forbes gets super-pissed about the issue, grabbing the bull by the horns and labeling all “Kobe” marketed in the U.S., South America, and Australia as “food’s biggest scam.” The publication also debunks the whole beer-and-massage treatment for these cows as apocryphal, much like Gourmet discovered over four years ago. So, what’s Forbes’s, um, beef with “faux-be”?
To review, authentic Kobe strictly refers to bulls and “virgin cows” descended from a pure line of Tajima-gyu breed cattle that have to be born and raised in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture, subsisting entirely on local grass and water. Due to tight laws governing Japanese beef exports, none of it legally makes its way to the U.S. Like EVER! Once slaughtered and processed (which can only happen in Hyogo to maintain Kobe pride), the beef bears a ten-digit ID number traceable back to the individual cow it once was.
Of course, back in the land of pink slime and money, it’s a different story. Compared to these painstaking Japanese requirements, we look more like we’re running a butcher shop out of a stall on Canal Street, sending domestic knockoffs to the table that hardly stand up to the same standards and purified heritage.
While the U.S. respects the provenance of a provincial product like Champagne, Japan’s trademark for Kobe goes unrecognized, leading to a glut of meat that’s really just fronting. (Often, Grub Street’s found, at mid-range places that market things like “kobe sliders.”) Writer Larry Olmstead posits, “The reason consumers buy it is because the cattle industry in Kobe spent lifetimes building a reputation for excellence, a reputation that has essentially been stolen.”
Calling the resulting boom in “faux-be” sliders and marked-up “faux-be” steaks a “con,” Olmsted unravels restaurants’ and ranchers’ non-stop attempts to make people pay top-dollar for a non-existent “heritage of excellence.” He writes:
You cannot buy Japanese Kobe beef in this country. Not in stores, not by mail, and certainly not in restaurants. No matter how much you have spent, how fancy a steakhouse you went to, or which of the many celebrity chefs who regularly feature “Kobe beef” on their menus you believed, you were duped. I’m really sorry to have to be the one telling you this, but no matter how much you would like to believe you have tasted it, if it wasn’t in Asia you almost certainly have never had Japan’s famous Kobe beef.
The antagonized scribe doesn’t save journalists from the hot seat either, insisting the media should be blamed for not standing up against the scam. Olmstead mentions “the virtues of Kobe being touted on television food shows, by famous chefs, and on menus all over the country,” then points his finger at The Grey Lady, writing, “Restaurant reviews in the New York Times have repeatedly praised the ‘Kobe beef’ served at high-end Manhattan restaurants.”
And lest you go thinking the enraged food writer is okay with Wagyu or “Domestic Kobe,” sorry folks! He’s planning a follow-up piece tomorrow that will tackle those sacred cows.