small plates at woodfire grill atlanta
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grass fed beef: a chef's dilemma

as a professional chef, i have always had an eye towards seasonality and cooking with locally grown ingredients. in the past couple of years, there has been a tremendous push to source meat & poultry from local producers. where i live in georgia, this effort is about where finding local vegetables was 20 years ago. in fact, on the american grass fed beef association's website, four producers are listed in the state.

often, the grass fed beef that is available is either frozen, or production is too small and/or too infrequent for a busy restaurant's chef to rely on. american diners have become way too familiar with (and their palates accustomed to) factory farmed corn fed beef, prime grade or choice cuts which means, well marbled or fatty, considerably different traits than those of grass fed beef.

grass fed beef is very lean by nature because it grazes and eats what it is naturally meant to eat - grass. It is not force fed or fattened up with growth hormones, or gmo'd corn and soy, for market. because the meat is leaner, it is believed to be better for you, less fatty and richer in nutrients. the downside, it has no fat to keep it moist during cooking. in fact, it can be very dry, chewy and bland. these are not desirable traits for a diner willing to pay $40.00 for a steak in a restaurant. in fact, the last time i served grass fed beef, we had numerous complaints.

recently i received samples from a local producer of grass fed beef. this particular beef or veal (more on that) as he calls it, was less than desirable. after cooking several cuts, all cooked to a perfect medium rare & medium, all were tough, chewy and lacking in the flavor department. i asked numerous members of the staff to try it, the responses were universally negative: "not good," "what's that?" "we can't serve this," etc.

for me as a chef and owner of the restaurant, i'm not about to turn around and serve the beef to paying customers after that response. i am presently awaiting a delivery of grass fed beef from another local producer, one that raises it's beef on a certified organic farm along with vegetables and pigs. i have sampled their ground beef before and it was good. i am taking a leap of faith here and ordering a couple of ribeyes and a hind quarter. i will discuss my findings in an upcoming post.

i will also mention that attaining this beef was not easy. when most chefs want beef, they call a distributor, place an order and it shows up the next day, not the case here. a couple of weeks ago, i spoke with a farmer, who was very enthusiastic and said that yes, they had beef! we discussed what was available, i asked about different cuts and the response was, "we can probably do that." i asked, "probably?" the conversation then turned to "when can i get some?" i was told, "probably next week."

now remember, i am a chef/owner of a restaurant that serves dinner six nights per week. in my 30-plus years in the restaurant business, one thing of have come to learn is the importance of timeliness and consistency. two factors or traits that a successful restaurant needs to embrace. "probably" is not a great answer when it comes to supply. fortunately, by design, i have built in a great degree of flexibility into my operation by changing our menu on a daily basis, something that is not so common in the atlanta market. however, our regular customers have come to expect certain preparations or menu items to just be there. hence, the chef's dilemma.

i want to do the right thing. i want to continue to work towards a local sustainable food supply. i want to serve more nutritious and eco-friendly beef. please, work with me here people! produce a product that is consistently available, even seasonal, with good texture and good taste. everyone will win!


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