Modern Steak brings Kobe beef to Calgary after four-years of work

Kobe beef, the near-mythical meat from the Kobe prefecture in Japan, has come to Calgary this month at Modern Steak’s Stephen Avenue location.

The beef which exclusively comes from heifers aged 20 to 36 months, and is limited to a maximum of 5,000 animals per year receiving the coveted blue approval stamp, is a hard and rare commodity for restaurants outside of Japan to obtain.

Of the 5,000 heads of cattle, only 550 or so make it to foreign markets, with Michelin-starred restaurants receiving the first selection before anyone else.

“We started this process four years ago. Just before Covid started, we were looking to get it working to get our Kobe license, because you have to get a license to be able to serve this,” said Modern Steak owner Stephen Deere.

Restaurants that go through the significant paperwork, and pay more than $6,000 to receive that license which includes being inspected, are then able to purchase small lots, compared to other beef products including Olympic-winning Waygu (which Modern Steak served in December of last year).

The restaurant was able to get two halves of tenderloins, strip loins, and ribeyes—with an option to purchase more while supply is available because they are now part of the Kobe beef purchasing system.

Deere said there will be times that it simply will not be available on the menu.

“There is a worldwide demand, and there is no supply,” he said.

Kobe beef cooked to perfection (according to Executive Chef Tony Pittoello) at Modern Steak on Stephen Avenue in Calgary on Wednesday, July 12, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Double the price of Waygu, but an experience on a different level

Deere said that the price for the Kobe beef experience at Modern Steak would be about double that of the Waygu beef one from last year, largely as a result of the economics of supply and demand.

But that price, he said, would deliver a product to the plate that is literally a cut above.

“Some people will tell you they’re happy with a $4 bar steak, and other people will tell you this is the best eating experience in the world. It is expensive,” Deere said.

What customers will be getting is the finest marbled meat, rich with incredibly flavourful fats that are also so delicate they will melt under regular restaurant lamps.

“Literally I’ve said if you stare at it too long the heat from your eyeballs will melt it at room temperature. That’s unprecedented in a beef,” Deere said.

That quality is due to the care and attention that the animals receive, and from the stringent genetic lineage that the Japanese government requires to grant Kobe beef the blue stamp of approval, said Deere.

In the Japanese system of beef grading, there is a beef marbling score (BMS) between one and 12, with 12 being the highest, and a carcass score (also called an A score) that goes from one to five.

Kobe beef is BMS 12 and A 5.

“There is nothing better on the planet. This is the highest of the high. You can’t get any higher than this,” he said.

Care and attention to cooking as well

By the time a Kobe beef steak has made it to the customer’s table, it has been cut under air conditioning to preserve the fat, and carefully cooked with an above-and-beyond level of care and attention.

“We don’t want to screw it up, because if you screw this up and you miss the temperature, you’re literally throwing a $400 piece of meat in the garbage that you can’t sell because the guest didn’t order that temperature,” Deere said.

“I even feel a little bit of anxiety when you put this on the fire. It is now focus time because the guests expectation is so high, and so is ours, and we don’t want to make a mistake with this because it’s a lot of money to to miss.”

Deene said that level of attention even goes so far as to make suggestions table side as to what the correct level of temperature is for the meat. Kobe beef, he said, was not the type of beef to be ordered well done—that level of doneness is better served on a different type of beef product.

“You’re cooking to a rare, medium rare, depending on the cut. You want to render the fat but not lose the fat,” he said.

“Almost sometimes certain guests, we ask them to get out of their own way. Meaning you might like eating meat medium well, and this is not the steak to do that. We will gladly do it for you, but we don’t recommend it because you might as well just order a different stake for a lesser price and you’ll get the better eating experience.”

When done right, Kobe beef becomes a literal melt-in-the-mouth experience—something that Deere encourages guests to try, letting the fat melt on the tongue and coat the inside of the mouth with rich beefy flavour.

“It’s satiating. It’s rich. It’s over the top. It’s all those things that you want in a steak,” he said.

“It’s like using truffle, less is more. You do not need 12 ounces, or 10 or 50 like whatever you’re used to eating. It’s less is more, and you can be satiated with less.”

He said that in his experience, the intensity of Kobe beef means that it eats at three to four times its weight compared to other beef.

Special menu presentation

Benefiting of the world’s finest beef, ordering Kobe is not just a meal, it is an experience.

“There’s a special menu presentation, we have a special place for it, we have special sauces that go alongside with it, and how we present it to the table is different so there is a little bit of theatre to this presentation.”

Deere said that in terms of accompanying dishes and wines, less rich and more acidic choices are the way to go.

“I wouldn’t go around the idea of having heavier high fat, higher fat dishes. Sides of vegetables, or a little nice little salad actually complements the beef more,” he said.

“Have a bite of beef, have that rich coating feeling, have a little salad with a higher acid dressing to clear the mouth and then have the next piece. Same thing we would do with wine.”

For wine, he recommends something like a Barolo, which complements the flavours.

“So to be able to enjoy that, again Barolo is expensive—expensive things go together—but then you have a better eating experience overall because of it.”

Modern Steak is recommending that guests make reservations if they want to have the Kobe beef experience, as it allows the restaurant to prepare for the guests, and to ensure they have the beef in stock.

“If it keeps going like Stampede’s been going I don’t know how long it lasts. It probably will go pretty quick over Stampede.”