Beef in Sheep’s Clothing

A chef spills the beans about serving beef in India.

Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals , where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house and back-of-house about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favourite establishments. This time, a Delhi chef tells us about his beef with the ban.

Image: Pixabay

Around three years ago, small media outfit Wikileaks4India and the Daily Sun Star, a Hindi paper, did an “exposé” on the availability of imported beef at five star hotels, and a news channel aired it. The manager of Megu restaurant at the Leela Hotel was captured on camera giving the whole spiel about Kobe wagyu: “30 seconds on each side, it melts in your mouth—everything.” His family had to move out of their house—he was holed up in the hotel—and there were 200 people outside the hotel.

I went home, had a couple of drinks, and went and vented on social media. I wrote saying how ridiculous it was—and the next day I got a call from my HR saying please pull down your post. “We can’t afford to have anyone talking about this, as we may be subject to income tax raids,” this and that. So the pressure is not just on the ingredient and on that person; but the whole government mechanism is being made to function in a way to put pressure on the food and beverage industry. It’s politicising an ingredient.

I know there are five-star hotels today serving you Kobe.

The part of the country I’m from, we eat shit tons of beef; they don’t have the balls to ban it there. There’s no true belief. I have politicians who come. I have politicians sitting in the ruling party who have come and eaten at my establishment. There’s one, he appears on all of the news channels advocating this or that agenda of theirs, but he still eats it. He loves his steak medium—a true Indian. They don’t actually care at all. It’s just a game.

Beef has not gone anywhere, it’s not going anywhere. It’s here to stay and it’s just going to get more expensive. Earlier, it was approximately Rs 480-500 per kg; now its Rs. 1,800 per kg. So it’s triple the rate. It’s a mafia.

Beef, buff—it’s all called tenderloin on the menu. Now tenderloin is a cut, it could be of pork, beef, buff—it could be human, for all you know.”

The guys who have implemented it are making money off it. They provide protection for these trucks coming in. These guys who raid trucks, the gau rakshaks, get paid off—it’s a huge money-making scam.

You can source proper beef from Uttarakhand. They don’t transport live cattle—now these are all stories, I really don’t know how they transport it—but apparently it comes in with a mix of meat, so you never have a total truck full of beef; it comes in with lamb carcass and stuff like that.

In terms of import, there’s this dude—let’s call him Sheru—he can get you anything and everything. You want Kobe, he gets you Kobe; you want venison, you want snake, you want monkey brain… this guy can get you anything. He deals with a very few people, the five-star market, ultra-elite and of course, politically connected. I’ve been at homes that have Sheru as a dealer—and he gets them the works: ribeye, Kobe, cuts and cuts that you wouldn’t even imagine were in the country. His clients arrange the meat and say to the chef, “You cook it.”

“You want monkey brain? This guy can get you anything.”

I know there are five-star hotels today serving you Kobe. Beef, buff—it’s all called “tenderloin” on the menu. Now tenderloin is a cut, it could be of pork, beef, buff—it could be human, for all you know. Beef is not as tough to find as people believe it is. It’s just a perception. People are starting to mystify it. You say you have beef, and people say, “oh woooow”. Maybe if it was always there, no one might have ordered it, but today it’s become this whole thing.

You don’t just go into any restaurant and ask anyone—now no one is going to tell you. You have to build up a rapport, you have to have a personal connection with the chef, with somebody at the restaurant and actually get information prior, and pre-order. Don’t walk in and ask your server, because you’re not going to get it—no one is risking it that much.

The political environment is very vindictive right now, so everyone’s like, “if I know you personally I don’t mind. If I know who you are, what your background is—that you’re not one to go out and tell 15 people.” That’s the basic criteria of serving beef today. But it’s as available as it was yesterday.

Originally published on VICE India.

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