By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
We are living in an amazing time. The availability of quality, unadulterated and sustainable ingredients for both chefs and the general public has never been more symbiotic.
In fact, many small farmers and ranchers exist today solely because of the relationships they have cultivated with chefs and restaurants. These stories are told on restaurant websites, by ranchers at trade shows or in print advertising. And the general public eats it up. Or do they?
Much like a wonderful rib-eye steak or pristine piece of fish, cooks and chefs can also create amazing dishes with lesser cuts that the average diner can’t easily duplicate at home. And yet, what is our fascination with only the most perfect cuts of an animal?
We recycle more than ever. We are more aware of how much water we use. We have been coached since childhood to turn off the light when you leave a room; so much so that we spend millions on creating a more efficient light bulb.
Yet, as a dining society, we only want the absolute best portion of the cow or pig on our plate. We may say we don’t, or that we’re ordering these other flavorful and tender cuts, but the numbers say otherwise.
We search for the restaurant that serves the best cut of beef. Meanwhile, for every subprimal (the whole rib eye or New York strip before it is cut into individual steaks), there are hundreds of pounds of “lesser” cuts: chuck roasts, shoulder, flap meat, sirloin, and many others that are at times harder to sell on a menu than a bottle of water to Aquaman.
And here’s the irony. We are living in an ever-increasing, price-conscious society. My father always tells me he doesn’t know how my brother and I do it. Everything is so much more expensive relative to income, he says. And yet, we crave a great steak—an expensive, perfect, prime steak.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve reached out to a rancher to ask for a rib eye, New York or tenderloin, only to have them say, “Well, I only had a few of those and they sold right away. I’d really like to move these shoulders or all this ground beef I’m sitting on.”
It all comes down to this: How are small Montana ranchers, an essential component of this great state, going to survive if we don’t support consumption of the whole animal?
Mom and pop ranchers, much like chefs, wear many hats. Tour a ranch or two and you’ll see their daily toils. They raise the animal, tend the animal, maintain the ever-dilapidating ranch around it, and transport the animal to the federal processor (of which Montana only has four). They then transport the product back, market and sell the animal, deliver it often times many miles away, and keep up with all their invoicing and relationships along the way.
Rather than tell ourselves we simply want to go out for that perfect medium-rare steak, what if we asked ourselves the question: I wonder what other cuts of beef this rancher has to offer? Your local rancher will be forever grateful.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.