by Sophie Gitonga (Resident Foodie)
It’s been an awkward time for meat lovers like me. We are being asked to leave what the WHO would describe as an abusive relationship. Recently, the WHO didn’t mince words when they declared that red meat was bad for humans. Not bad because of love handles and clogged arteries. No dear friends, cancer bad, right up there with ciggies and radioactive waste. I glossed over that report and took the same position as the Australians; screw the WHO. Life is too short for tofu burgers.
As confirmation of my smugness towards this health advisory, I’ve gladly accepted an invitation to the Graze Restaurant at the Sankara Hotel. A beef paradise if I ever saw one. Sitting pretty on the hotel’s first floor, it’s fashioned after an American steakhouse; smart, cozy and dimly lit. It has my kind of décor; black and white photos mounted on one wall, a stack of wood pieces on another and my favourite, the menu scribbled on the blackboard. I have a thing for blackboards- gives the impression that a lesson is about to be had. I’m meeting my friend here and I spot him on the balcony, delicately balancing his seething cup of lemon and honey tea as he chats up the manager. The dusk and the votive lights give an ethereal feel to the place.
Ken the sous chef joins us at our table. It’s a slow night so he can afford to hobnob with the diners. He’s worked in the industry for 15 years, having hopped around some really swanky restaurants before landing at the Graze steakhouse. He knows a lot about meat and imparts some of his knowledge with us. The meat served here comes from Morendat, the happy cow farm in Naivasha. If you believe in reincarnation and you think there’s a chance you might come back as a cow, then Morendat is where you want to end up. The Morendat breeds are a genetic soup of black Angus from Scotland and our local Borana and other smaller obscure breeds, resulting in hardier and stockier animals. The cows here are fed a steady diet of corn, lucerne and molasses until they are sufficiently plumped and then they are led away to a gentle death that involves a stun gun and a neck massage. OK, I’m not sure about the neck massage but I think that should be a hallmark requirement of a zen death. The carcasses are then taken to what I would call the beef morgue where they are hang and left to dry-age for about twenty one days. The process leaves you with a tender and more flavourful meat.
Ken receives 800kg a week of his Morendat beef which he then portions to various cuts and sizes. He has these cut pieces on a tray display and brings them out to beef cut novices like me who don’t know the sirloin from the flank. I’m torn between chateaubriand and the rib eye. Weighing in at six hundred grams, the chateaubriand is a formidable cut of meat with a hefty price tag of 3250/- cash money! You need to be sure that your card is activated before you opt for this one but Ken assures that you get your money’s worth.
I go with the less intimidating, three hundred gram rib eye steak. The best part cut of meat according to Ken. Both savoury and juicy, it’s a fail-safe steak that anybody can make.
Here’s how Ken is going to make mine. He will take my meat, season it generously with salt and pepper then place it in his Josper, an oven and grill combo. Josper is the brand of equipment, not the pet name for his oven as I had thought. You know how men name their cars or motorcycles Eileen or Alice, well this is not the case. Anyway, back in the Josper, the meat is sealed, grilled and smoked at the same time, giving it this unique aroma and flavor. Depending on level of doneness desired, it spends anywhere from five to fifteen minutes in there. He will feel the centre of the meat and then prod it with his kitchen thermometer making sure that it’s the right temperature. And then is removed and left to rest at room temperature for another five minutes. For these high quality cuts of meat, Ken recommends rare to medium-rare doneness.
I don’t get the point of ‘cooking’ your meat rare. To me it’s like walking up to a live cow and just taking a bite out of its ass. Medium -well for me please, as close to cremation as you can get and then back it up a little bit. If he’s miffed by my suggestion of charred steak he doesn’t show it. I choose pepper sauce and butter drowned mushrooms as my sides and Ken nods obligingly.
My dinner companion says he’ll have the chicken. Folks, this is why we can’t prosper. If you go to a steakhouse and order chicken then you are setting your country back at least a generation. He explains that eating beef leaves him feeling like a boa constrictor after a kill- lethargic and engorged. It takes too long to work its way through his system, he protests. Does he not chew his food? I wonder to myself.
The bread is served while we wait for the main course, and while pretty, it’s a distraction. It will take up our limited stomach space so we ignore it and segue into an interesting conversation about pretty girls who get totally smashed on 4 cans of Redd’s. My impression of it is that it’s a placebo, like fermented porridge. You are not actually supposed to get high on it. And then what is it? A beer? A fizzy cousin of champagne? A cider? Whatever it is, I think they should have left it to cook a little longer before they canned it. And then there’s the conversation part, social drinking is in large part about the conversation, sometimes deep and sometimes benign. How deep can you get though when your drinking buddy is on Redd’s?
Joy of joys, Ken interrupts our musings with our dinner. The beef and chicken are served on wooden and slate board. I’d like to try this serving style at home but my relatives from the village probably think I’ve fallen on hard times if I served them on chopping boards. My meat comes with additional bones that have been sawed in half exposing the marrow within. Ken just keeps winning and I wink my approval. Our side dishes are served in miniature cast iron pots, so cute they make awesome party favours. My mushrooms are served whole and they are truly gorgeous. I pop them into my mouth, closing my eyes in total bliss.
My rib eye steak is a thing of beauty and garnished with rock salt. The first slice is quickly followed by a second and a third before I realize that I’ve been holding my breath. The flavor is so good it grabs you by your shirt lapels and draws you in like a saucy wench. I take a good enough stab at my steak, eating about half of it before I raise my white flag of surrender. I’m stuffed to the gills and appreciative of Ken’s handiwork. Later, he invites us to his kitchen where he introduces us to Josper and the order of Chateaubriand that he has prepared for another diner. I feel like I should have my picture taken with this meat. Wow, is all I can manage.
Cover Image credit; Kenya Buzz