“The food industry is very important to Ireland,” says Michael Hussey, Bord Bia's Middle East Regional Market Director, and a mere few minutes spent at a table of Irish food industry professionals makes it clear that pride is backed up by quality. “Despite having a population of only 4.7 million people, we produce enough food to feed almost 40 million. We export 90 per cent of everything we produce in beef and dairy products in particular.” Seated at At.Mosphere in Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa, Bord Bia works to engage top chefs and Irish produce through the Chefs’ Irish Beef Club, an exclusive international forum which brings together some of Europe and the Middle East’s leading culinary figures who showcase Irish beef in their menus.
This edition saw Executive Chef of At.Mosphere Restaurant, Chef Christopher Graham, who introduced a multiple course menu derived from the summer offerings at At.Mosphere. Highlighting beef, salmon, oysters and dairy – which were used in some after dinner chocolate truffles – Graham says that Irish produce is “of an exceptional quality.” He continues to explain how when “You mention Wagyu, which is extremely tender but sometimes lacking in taste whereas Irish beef, particularly John Stone Beef, at least matches or exceeds Wagyu in its tenderness but is bursting with flavour.” Bord Bia asserts that Ireland greatly emphasises sustainability with its impassioned declarations that their animals, sea or land based, enjoy the freshness of the unadulterated Atlantic waters and air. Such leads to a natural climate and rain fed, grass-based agricultural system, which is reinforced through the Origin Green Sustainability Initiative. Graham adds, “You might find Wagyu fed grain concentrate indoors for 300 days a year, but Irish beef is all grass fed and spends the majority of its life outdoors. Similarly, I prefer the produce from Ireland because the producers work much closer with the animals. Take Kelly’s Oysters, for example, their exquisite range can take up to four or five years to reach maturity all the while being turned by hand several times a day – no machinery. It’s all done by hand. That level of dedication and service to the produce is experienced in every bite and what makes Irish food such a joy to offer.”
Through seven courses that highlighted the pure taste of the produce, Graham utilises the ingredients to complement his menu vision. “I find I can offer the finest menu I can because of the ingredients,” he says. “It’s a goal of mine to educate those with a desire for the best that they simply can’t get better.” As the dinner began with Obsiblue Tartar with Oscietra caviar, bergamot, kaffir lime and furikake followed by Foie Gras torchon with smoked eel, dashi, apple and Szechuan pepper, it grew progressively richer, with a presentation that playfully obscured both the textures and flavours that paired elegantly on the palette. Organic Galway salmon mi cuit was offered with smoked Kelley native oyster, pear, Killowen yoghurt and Bottarga. After, a slow cooked organic egg proved to be a surprising highlight with the addition of asparagus, parmesan and buerre noisette. Finally, the braised halibut with crispy veal belly and tagliatelle, white Alba truffle and chestnut proved to be a luxe culinary journey towards the John Stone dry aged beef loin, tongue and tail, soubise and watercress barolo. “The crescendo of the evening was certainly the beef and I think that will resonate with the majority of those who indulge in cooking at home also,” says Graham, adding that key factors such as the 21-day dry aging, the grass-fed diet, dedication of the farmers with their very small economies, and the select methods of John Stone Beef are “elemental to the symphony of flavour,” he quips. “Critics find it hard to disagree.”
Allan Morris, managing director of John Stone Beef, is one of the figures behind some of the most internationally recognised, and most flavourful, quality Irish products. “Of the 330k tonnes which we harvest only 12-15 per cent makes the brand standard of John Stone beef for the world’s finest restaurants,” explains Morris. While a believer in the product, Morris is straightforward on the challenges of enticing chefs into a new produce avenue, which ultimately leads them to explore Irish produce and become a part of the Chefs’ Irish Beef Club. “Normally, Chefs have 20 minutes max to talk to you as time is valuable to them,” begins Morris. “So when I call chefs after I meet first with them to follow-up, we usually start with sending samples, or I take samples myself and cook the meat with them to ensure the best result. I tend to get some objections from them that they know how to cook a steak, but I then explain that I only do one thing compared to all that they do – and it’s my job to get that right.” Morris cites a time in a restaurant in Singapore whose chef declared himself a “perfectionist when it came to cooking steaks.” In a cook-off, Morris cooked his steak, the chef his, and the ensuing meats were judged by additional chefs to determine the best. “They chose mine,” recalls Morris. “And he and I have been friends ever since.”
Morris is a man with decades of knowledge in the business, and one who firmly knows his meat, as well as his audience. “In the Middle East, sometimes the customer wants their steak well done due to cultural reasons,” he remarks. “Our careful slaughter process is done in full accordance with halal rules. With a medium or rare steak, the red liquid you see in meat is the natural heme iron colour of the meat and natural juices. If a steak is well cooked you lose all natural minerals and vitamins.” Technical explanations aside, Morris – whose company makes steak knives he laughs will make any piece of meat more glorious – has a clear message: “We recommend that the customer try our dry aged steaks cooked medium or even better, rare. Your taste buds will thank you for it!”