Critics Corner: STEAK (R)EVOLUTION

Read two critical perspectives on Steak (R)evolution (Frank Ribiére, 2015) by Chris Kronner and Erik ‘Daemon’ Ferry.

Steak (R)evolution opens Friday, August 28, 2015 at Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema, the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, and around the country.Horizontal RuleSteakRevolutionPoster

STEAK(R)EVOLUTION: Mind and Meat

A conversation with
Kronnerburger’s Chris Kronner

Chad Graff and Joann Falkenburg recently attended the “Beefstro” event at the newly opened Kronnerburger on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. It featured a 90-day ribeye steak. They discussed the new movie Steak (R)evolution with owner/chef Chris Kronner, and the demands of the meats Kronner serves. Here is their report: Continue reading →

STEAK(R)EVOLUTION: A Culinary Quest

 by Erik ‘Daemon’ Ferry

The movement in recent decades towards cuisines which emphasize the hedonistic pleasures of a superb gastronomic experience is as good a starting-point as any towards wider examinations of culture, agriculture, and planet. French producer/filmmaker Frank Ribiere’s Steak (R)evolution does just that, and in a most engaging manner. His culinary quest in search of ‘The Perfect Steak’ is thought-provoking… Continue reading →

Horizontal RuleSTEAK (R)EVOLUTION: Mind and Meat

A conversation with Kronnerburger’s Chris Kronner

Chad Graff and Joann Falkenburg recently attended the “Beefstro” event at the newly opened Kronnerburger on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. It featured a 90-day ribeye steak. They discussed the new movie Steak (R)evolution with owner/chef Chris Kronner, and the demands of the meats Kronner serves. Here is their report:

Eat Drink Films (Chad Graff and Joann Falkenburg): Joann and I both grew up in Nebraska eating a lot of steak; on her family’s ranch the cattle were primarily grass-fed. We had a very memorable steak dinner at your “Beefstro” event Monday! Tell us about the steak you served.

Chris Kronner: Monday evening we served the rib steak section of a roughly 26-month-old, strictly grass-fed Angus steer from Stemple Creek, which is near Petaluma. The beef was aged for a little over ninety days here at the restaurant.

EDF: How does 90-day aged ribeye compare to the beef you put in your burgers?

CK: We use a combination of whole animals from Stemple Creek, and chuck, bottom round and brisket from a company called Mindful Meats. The Stemple animals are Black Angus and young at roughly two years old. Mindful Meats slaughters certified organic grass-fed dairy animals from all over Marin County — they range from two to seven or eight years of age. We dry age the meat from Mindful for a minimum of thirty days and allow about two weeks of age on the Stemple Creek meat. I have found that the combination of the two works best for our needs.

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Onion rings, Kronnerburger and patty melt.

Because we butcher whole animals every few weeks, we are left with the steak sections that aren’t included in the burger grind. These we hold and age for varying lengths depending on their intended use. The sirloin and strip steak sections usually end up on the dinner menu. The rib steaks we save for special occasions and allow to mature as long as possible.

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Spanish cattle in Steak (R)evolution. Photo by Kino Lorber, Inc.

EDF: Does Steak(R)evolution speak to the qualities you search for in the highest quality beef? How so?

CK: Steak (R)evolution is an interesting and inspiring insight into the variance in what are perceived to be the most desirable traits to be found in beef based on culture and tradition. In my opinion it further reinforces the argument that the best meat comes from places where a focus on true sustainability acts as a guiding principle. The health of the animals and the environment that supports them seems to be the greatest factor in determining the quality of the meat they produce. Steak(R)evolution shines a light on the result of doing things the right way without beating you over the head, and ultimately the steak seems to speak for itself.

EDF: Is excellent beef becoming easier or harder to find in California? Why?

CK: In my opinion excellent beef is becoming easier to find, if you can afford it. There are quite a few producers of extremely high quality grass fed beef here in California. That being said, the beef produced by these ranches tends to carry a much higher price than the beef available in a grocery store. Beef is a resource-intensive product and thus should be consumed in a way that reflects the work that goes into raising it.

We strive to serve the highest quality beef, thoughtfully prepared at the most reasonable price possible. I think of the hamburger as a very democratic institution, I focus on using the highest quality sustainable ingredients to make ours. The hope is that it can act as an easygoing introduction to grass-fed beef and the benefits of aging it and treating it with care.

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EDF: At Beefstro, it wasn’t just the steak that turned us on. Those cucumbers and scalloped tomatoes were fantastic. How do you think about what to serve with steak?

CK: The result of three months of dry aging is a very texturally rich ribeye with seriously concentrated flavor. Its accompaniments need to stand up to that richness as well as provide a contrast to it. Fresh acidic vegetables, in this case squash, cucumber, celery and tomato, provide that contrast while adding layers of complexity and acid as condiments.

EDF: Slathering bone marrow and dowsing Oyster Bordelaise on the meat felt a little illegal. Very pleasurably illegal. How do you think about what to put on steak?

CK: Special steaks deserve special sauce. We rarely make that type of classic reduced sauce. Used sparingly, a bordelaise compounds the depth of flavor of the steak.

Horizontal Rule

chris and Ashley

Chis Kronner and Ashley Hildreth. Photo by by Michael O’Neal, courtesy Refinery 29.

Chris Kronner grew up in North Carolina. After a stint as chef at Bar Tartine he wanted to have his own restaurant and ran a year-long pop-up at the Mission’s Bruno, followed by regular events at Oakland’s Ordinaire. In late April, Chris and Ashley Hildreth opened Kronnerburger.

Chris told SFEater, “A Kronnerburger is a hyper version of a really simple burger, using high-quality ingredients — everything, from mayo to pickles to buns, is made in-house. The patty is a combination of freshly ground dry-aged beef from 5-7 year-old Holstein cows from Mindful Meats, unaged 18-month-old grass-fed Angus beef, and short-rib and neck trim. The patty is grilled and placed atop a toasted, buttered bun, made with potato flour and durum semolina. The pillowy bun is then generously adorned with aged white cheddar mayonnaise, charred red onions, dill pickles and crispy, crunchy iceberg lettuce. (Kronner swears by iceberg lettuce, which he says adds an incredible textural element and, when grown with care, has a very specific taste.) To add to the meat factor, the burger is accompanied by bone marrow that’s been brined and then salt-roasted, ready to be scooped directly onto an awaiting burger (or straight into a diner’s mouth).”

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner with a weekend brunch. In addition to burgers and a much loved patty-melt, there is a Mangalista pork burger, a vegan Earth Burger with a gluten-free bun and many inventive salads. There are also rotating specials and events.

Full details here http://kronnerburger.com/ ]Horizontal RuleSTEAK (R)EVOLUTION: A Culinary Quest

by Erik ‘Daemon’ Ferry

The movement in recent decades towards cuisines which emphasize the hedonistic pleasures of a superb gastronomic experience is as good a starting-point as any towards wider examinations of culture, agriculture, and planet. French producer/filmmaker Frank Ribiere’s Steak (R)evolution does just that, and in a most engaging manner. His culinary quest in search of ‘The Perfect Steak’ is thought-provoking without being heavy-handed … and a sensual experience in its own right.

SteakRevolution3

Steak (R)evolution director Frank Ribiere. Photo by Kino Lorber, Inc.

With the extroverted Parisian boucher Yves Marie Le Bourdonnec recruited as tour guide, Ribiere whisks us seamlessly from a village barbecue in southern France to an upscale steak house in Brooklyn to the verdant pampas of Argentina, and on to Japan’s kobe beef production epicenter. Bucolic vistas, colorful characters holding forth with authority on the carnivorous arts, and almost-erotic presentations of various regional beef cookeries keep our attention.

In fact, even dedicated vegans are warned that this film may cause them to fall into temptation. You can hear the provocative sizzling, nearly smell the tangy wood smoke, and just about taste the exquisite flavor of a masterfully-seared sirloin, juices running. Oh god, yess.

SteakRevolution4

Photo by Kino Lorber, Inc.

But in seeking to answer the slightly decadent question, “What makes a perfect steak?,” Ribiere and Le Bourdonnec cleverly introduce key questions about animal husbandry and diet on a crowded Earth. Restaurateurs, ranchers, and retailers from Brazil to Italy all seem to agree that the grain-intensive, monolithic sameness demanded by mainstream American and now Eurozone standards are neither producing the best beef, nor supporting the long-term viability of meat production. As queried by Monsieur Le Bourdonnec, more than one of Steak (R)evolution’s interviewees characterizes this as a question of “quantity over quality.” Mass-production, high turnover, and gigantic cuts from youngish animals with over-amped growth rates have disrupted older, locally adapted, and more sustainable production methods, cattle breeds, human communities, and the cuisines that suit them.

The best steaks have got some fat in ‘em. No doubt about it. But the film conveys that culinary redolence, environmental sustainability, and even consumer health hinge on how it gets there.

For example, Tom Maylan, a Coors-swigging Ivy League collegiate-turned-grower in upstate New York, feels sure that grass-fed beef is not only healthier and better-tasting, but indicative of “the only way that we’re going to keep eating meat on this planet without burning it down.”

Steak ladiesMark Schatzker, a Canadian journalist who is a rough equivalent of our food and sustainability guru Michael Pollan, waxes eloquent on the texture and flavor of a deep-red, yellow-marbled steak from a cow he purchased and grass-fed, compared to the pale rubbery feedlot supermarket product sitting beside it.

Coming at it from another angle, renowned Brit breeder and butcher Tim Wilson, for whom environmental concerns aren’t evident, claims that the preeminence of his beef in London restaurants is due to selection of slow-growing, pastured animals that have time to develop character, flavor and fine-grained marbling— and also an extended aging process. Apparently the finicky process of “dry-aging” the carcasses in a convection meat refrigerator for up to four weeks makes quite a difference. One of Wilson’s dry-aged, grass-fed steaks earns Ribiere’s second-favorite rating of the ten that he and Le Bourdonnec smack their lips over in Steak (R)evolution.

But slower growth of the product and all of that aging means higher prices, too. The film doesn’t delve into comparative economics. But it implicitly begs the question of how and why a feedlot system with massive inputs can produce meat more cheaply than by simply running cattle on a natural pasture and letting them hang in a refrigerator for a somewhat longer period of time.

SteakRevolution5

Photo by Kino Lorber, Inc.

An amusing counterpoint is found in our visit to Japan’s beef industry. We visit a Kobe farm where, sure enough, the staff massage their cattle with sake-soaked straw, feed them a rich high-grain diet, ply them with the occasional beer, and play Mozart in the barn to keep them calm. The indigenous Wagyu cattle evidence an amazing degree of desirable fat marbling in their steaks, as an onscreen slice clearly demonstrates. Apparently it is extremely delicious. And pricey; try about $200/lb. Not proletarian fare, exactly. Ribiere liked his pretty well (if cooked rare), sampled in a notable Tokyo eatery. It made his #3.

But wait. Mssrs. Ribiere and Le Burdonnec then take us to Sweden’s Baltic shore, where a canny Swedish entrepreneur intrigued to obtain a few of those Japanese Wagyu cattle (of which exports are officially banned), and raises them outdoors on grass alone, sans the Mozart. Slaughter reveals degrees of marbling in the meat comparable to the pampered bovines of Kamakura. Ahem.

As noted, Steak (R)evolution doesn’t preach, but lets viewers draw their own conclusions. Monsieur Ribiere’s all-time favorite steak is in fact from a Spanish fellow who, like a lot of the other luminaries in the film, isn’t just a restaurateur but also a chef, butcher, and grower. The singular Jose Gordon of Jiménez de Jamuz, Leon has an extremely rarified system wherein he raises his cattle—all bulls who were ah, neutered after maturity—10 to 15 years before slaughter. He feeds them lots of grain, too. Other interviewees are shown expressing no small disbelief that cuts from such venerable animals could possibly be of high quality. But apparently once again—as with the English steak that held Ribiere’s second-favorite rating—the finicky process of dry-aging the carcasses for the better part of a month to concentrate the flavor works wonders.

The film ends with a delightful trip to Corsica, where stalwart native son Jacques Abbatoucci roasts whole beeves raised on grass and the foliage of selected trees to fall-off-the-bone tenderness over a massive bed of coals in the picturesque seaside hamlet of Tallone. Pavlovian responses are unavoidable as we watch the chef baste the richly-browning carcass in rosemary-steeped olive oil in the late Mediterranean sun. Abbatoucci, who also raises and promotes the beef he’s cooking, explains how community, tradition, breeding, pasturage, and recipes all work together to create a culinary experience that makes the most of local conditions and preserves the Earth’s fecundity, while strengthening independent local lifeways.

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Photo by Kino Lorber, Inc.

Makes sense. After watching this, we certainly want to have a steak, and the good news is that if it’s done right we can probably continue to do so. Going forward we can imagine that they will be grass-fed, pricier, tastier, and healthier.

As English chef Richard Turner of Ribiere’s runner-up steakery (Hawksmoor, London) says, “Steak is celebration food. If you ate it every day, it wouldn’t be good for you.”

This movie is recommended to foodists and armchair travelers who are not card-carrying members of The Animal Liberation Front. It moves decently, has a tastefully spare, largely ambient audio element, takes us to many beautiful places, and introduces us to no end of interesting characters. Never mind the unabashed portrayals of some mighty tempting fare grilled and served with aplomb by masters and mistresses of the trade.

Its small weaknesses include an inadequate introduction to Ribiere himself—he appears for brief moments as a somewhat obscure and scruffy character, chewing on steaks without much connection to the rest of the film. The momentum drags (though not for long) here and there, and the movie could have been shorter by 15 minutes.

These are small quibbles, however. Anyone with a culinary and omnivorous bent will like Steak (R)evolution, and its ability to stimulate thought on heavy issues with a light touch is unique and impactful.Horizontal RuleErikFerryErik ‘Daemon’ Ferry is a dedicated East Bay locavore, organic gardener, and environmental grant writing consultant with a varied background in conservation biology, livestock husbandry, and sustainable urban development. He is also on the Board of Directors of Dorothy Day House, a direct-services program for homeless Berkeleyans that is working to increase the locality and healthfulness of the meals it offers to those in need. Learn more at LinkedIn.

Horizontal RuleThis week’s Eat My Shorts features Bill Plympton’s latest short film, The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger.

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