Thursday, April 29, 2010

Snake River Farms

As a chef, it is important to understand where your food comes from, before you know what to do with it. All food varieties change based on a lot of factors; location, weather, terroir, etc. and with every one of those changes, comes a change in flavor.

On a recent trip to Idaho, funded by the great Superior Foods Co. I was given the opportunity to see where and how our beef is raised. Now it seems like everyone these days is so focused on organic, sustainable, etc. because of the hipster factor. I wanted to see how our beef is being raised because I want to educate our guests, and what better way to do so than with first hand experience with the ranchers, cowboys and cattle feeders involved in the process.

AB Foods Co. is the parent company to Snake River Farms and RR Ranch beef, both of which we offer for our restaurant menu. Now you might be asking yourself, why Northwest beef, your a locally focused restaurant right? Absolutely, however we are also chefs and we realize that the best product doesn't always come from Michigan, or the Midwest. A lot of factors go into the proper raising of cattle; feed cycle, pasture design and probably the most important factor, the genetic make up of the animal. Under the Snake River Farms label, the focus is on American Wagyu beef. American Wagyu is a cross of 50% pure Angus cattle genes and 50% Japanese Wagyu cattle (most famous for Kobe beef, from Kobe Japan). The end result after birth, a 550 day feed cycle and slow and accurate butchering process is the most amazing quality beef you can imagine. Simple cooking techniques with high heat is the way to go, as the marbling from this animal is unlike anything else around, melts like butter! The RR Ranch label is the workhorse beef for AB foods, with quality still on the top of their list! The top 1/3rd choice grade for this American Angus beef is closer to prime grade than any choice I have ever seen! For the quality, and price there is nothing around that touches it, and consistently going through 120 NY Strips a week, I think our guest would agree.

So after a short flight into Boise, I met up with Vern Oleson from AB foods and some other chefs from around the country to embark on our cattle filled adventure. We stayed the evening in Boise and woke up early in the morning to sunny skies and snow caped mountains. We quickly departed for the Jackson Jet Center, where to our surprise RR Ranch owns it's own lear jet that would be responsible for taking us from the south central part of Idaho, up to the North east part of Washington State. The first stop of the day was one of 5 feed lots that are responsible for feeding the cattle on a 550 day cycle, completely hormone free (vs. the standard 180 day cycle, hormones added). It was here that we learned the difference between the AB foods labels, cycles of feeding and types of feed used and AB foods focus on sustainability. After a very educational tour, we were off again, this time to east Washington State to the Northwest Meat production plant. We toured the butchering facilities that are responsible for turning out 1400 head of cattle a day, compared to it's counterparts i.e; IBP, which turns out 4800+ cattle a day. I said previous that the butchering process was slow and accurate, I know 1400 head a day seems like a lot, but with over 700 employees partaking in that process the ratio is very low! After the tour of the processing facility we were off to the RR Ranch, located in a small remote area of Northeast Washington, about 10 minutes from the Canadian border that boasts about 100,000 acres of pasture space! Upon arriving, we were quickly met by Howard, the owner of the RR Ranch with a fleet of vehicles to take us up north to the ranch. It was there that all the chefs would cook a lavish, beef filled cornucopia of deliciousness, topped off with great drinks and even better conversation! The following day we awoke early, to go on a tour of the ranch and the pastures, where we met up with Levi, Howard's grand son and heir to the ranch. He was tagging and branding Angus calves in order to keep the cattle inventory accurate and up to date. After a few hours of amazement by the endless sight of mountains and wildlife, we quickly departed for the airport that would inevitably take us back to Boise for our return trip home.

So as it seemed that it took as long as it did to write this entry, the cattle trip was over and I left with a whole new understanding of the cattle raising process, dedication that AB Foods (Snake River Farms and RR Ranch) have for the well being of their animals and their focus on quality in everything they do! It makes me proud as a chef to serve such an amazing product knowing through it all, the beef was handled with care all the way from the birthing process to the perfectly cooked steak that makes it in front of the guest.

Here our some photos I took while on this trip, notice the amount of space these cattle have to roam. It is amazing considering at any one time, AB foods has 170,000 head of cattle under their umbrella at any one time. To check out the RR Ranch and Snake River farms beef, stop into, trust me you don't want to miss this stuff!

Wagyu Cattle at pasture on RR Ranch

A view off in the distance from the RR Ranch bunkhouse front porch. The RR Ranch pasture space extends to the farthest mountains! That's a lot of acreage!

More cows at pasture with their calves

Wagyu Cattle. Notice the small tuft of hair on the top of their head. This is only a trait from the Wagyu.

A portion of our feast. I had to pay homage to our GM, George Aquino, and made Pho with gold label Wagyu ribeye to dip. WOW!

Grilled, smoked and roasted Wagyu beef, what a selection.

Another view from the front porch of the bunk house. Amazing country!

Branding operation set up in the pasture. Very impressive.

Real cowboys branding some calves

/> Howard (Owner of RR Ranch) and Vern

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


How do you know spring is here? Ramps of course. . .

Here are some pictures of a new ramp plot I found walking my 1 year old black lab, Morris. I went back out early the next morning and armed with a hand rake, help from Matt a JW kitchen pro (this is key!) and Morris, we tackled a tough job and harvested 20lbs. of wild ramps to use in

The mild sweet onion / garlic flavor of a ramp is un like anything else. What is so special about ramps is they are un-cultivated and is also the first vegetable to grow in the spring. You will know when your near a ramp plot as it will smell of sweet onion and you should notice lots (if your lucky!) of 6"-8" green shoots coming from the ground. Pick one, it should have a slightly reddish stem and smell of onion and garlic when you squeeze it.

The best way to prepare ramps is to clean them well, chop the stem end in 1" pieces and the leaves into a 1" dice. In a saute pan on medium heat, add a small amount of butter and when the butter starts to foam, add the ramp stems and cook for 2 minutes. Next add the leaves and toss lightly and cook for 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Great as a side dish for a light spring meal with a little fresh goat cheese crumbled over the top!