One major retail trend that our Midan team has been talking about recently is premiumization in the meat case. By cooking more at home, consumers have grown comfortable and confident in the kitchen and are now more willing than ever to splurge on a fine dining quality steak they can cook at home. According to data from IRI, volume growth of wagyu beef at retail grew 188% from 2020 to 2021. Direct-to-consumer offerings play into this as well – I can have delicious, high-quality meat delivered directly to my door in rural Alabama from Crowd Cow or Porter Road, even if my local grocery store doesn’t carry it.
But what I really want to talk about is two experiences I had recently while visiting with clients in Chicago. The first night, we had dinner at The Bazaar by Jose Andres. And let me tell you – they truly brought the theater with this dinner experience. During one of the courses, we were brought a bonsai tree to help make us feel like we were in Mr. Miyagi’s backyard. For those of you who aren’t 1980s’ kids like me, that’s an ode to The Karate Kid. The bonsai is symbolic in the movie on many levels, but the key takeaway is that Mr. Miyagi pays attention to the minute details that matter when it comes to styling his trees. And the same happened at The Bazaar. Jose Andres’ culinary and front of house team made us feel as though we were the only ones at their private party. When the bonsai tree was presented to us, we were offered a detailed tour of Japan’s wagyu beef-producing prefectures using the map on our menu as a guide. The Olive Wagyu sirloin from Kagawa Prefecture was followed by the traditional Sendai chuck roll from Miyagi Prefecture and both cuts were prepared tableside on an ishiyaki stone. Outside of my business dinners in Japan in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I can honestly say this was the best wagyu tasting experience of my life.
To add to the indulgence, we feasted on several more cuts because yes, we are meat people hosting meat people who love to try all the meats. The Washugyu Manhattan cut strip loin and the coffee rubbed skirt steak both delivered on flavor and presentation. We also conducted a sensory orchestra in our mouths with the mind-blowing signature cotton candy foie gras served at many of Chef Jose’s concepts and his signature taco featuring jamon iberico de bellota (the best ham in the world from Chef Jose’s native Spain), Osetra caviar, gold leaf and nori.
For Chicago steakhouse lovers like me, I found it fascinating to learn that Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup partnered with Gibson’s Restaurant Group to open The Bazaar Chicago. When two of the very best collaborate, everyone wins but the restaurant patrons are the ultimate winners.
The next night at Prime & Provisions had fewer theatrics, but still brought a memorable experience. Our first course, a decadent thick-cut bacon, was flambéed tableside and served to us with flames still jumping off it. Prime & Provisions houses a 500 square-foot dry-aging room, lined with Himalayan rock salt, meant to enhance the rich and unique flavors of the natural beef throughout the aging process. The owners and culinary team experimented for months and months to perfect their in-house aging timeline and process. The beef is seared in a 1,200°F broiler and served on a sizzling hot plate simply topped with sea salt and Wisconsin grass-fed butter. My Kansas City strip was served on a 600°F plate so it finished cooking as it was brought to the table.
While these examples might sound like fine dining is an every day thing for me, I want to point out that 95% of the time I am grilling meat on my back deck for dinner with my family. I am just one of the very fortunate ones who gets to explore these incredible foodservice trends with and for our clients. The point of these stories is that fine dining must evolve to what today’s post-pandemic consumer wants from foodservice. And with consumers more comfortable than ever cooking USDA Prime and wagyu beef at home, they want an unforgettable dining experience when they choose to dine out. They want the curated menu options that they can’t order to their doorstep, they want the theater of tableside cooking and caveman-esque bone-in meats.
The restaurant customer of tomorrow will dine out for two reasons – convenience and experience. And we as a meat industry need to help foodservice make that evolution alongside their customers. Whether wagyu, grass-fed or USDA Choice and higher, we need to provide the highest quality meats or help them source the world class options that can truly be showcased in ways the customer won’t expect. We also need to help them differentiate their unique selling proposition. Our fine dining restaurant chefs and front of house teams are the experts at taking us to our edge: They invite us to the edge of our seats by indulging our senses in ways that we cannot in the comfort of our homes. We need to offer suggestions for bringing the theater tableside in the dining room. We need to continue to innovate at the production-level by providing the cuts with the specs that exceed the chefs’ expectations – including the cuts with the massively impressive bone handles reminiscent of a renaissance festival.
The meat industry and the foodservice industry have survived the pandemic alongside one another, now it’s time to once again thrive together as well.