When Irish farmers hear a Dublin accent critiquing their stock it’s not always welcome, Allan Morris admits, but the man from Drimnagh has been working with meat on plates for 27 years and knows a thing or two about what the world’s top chefs are looking for.
Morris, originally from Drimnagh in Dublin but now living in Roscommon trained and worked as a butcher for years and is part owner of John Stone, a joint venture with Kepak, which supplies Irish beef to high end restaurants worldwide.
“It’s a niche business – we only sell at the top end of the market, mainly to Asia and the Middle East and into to four-star plus chefs that want fat and intermarbelling muscled beef.”
These ‘fat’ cuts come from primarily R4H fat steers or heifers under 30 months, which he says would not be acceptable by the likes of Tesco.
“I select the fat ones, which is a downgrade, and not acceptable for the likes of Tesco and it’s the loin cuts I’m after. I don’t sell top sides, or briskets, just loin cuts – rib eye, striploin, fillet and rump. The rest I have no market for.”
Allan also says he has no particular favourite breed. “Many chefs are brainwashed with Angus, but after 27 years’ experience not all Angus are perfect, or Hereford. The skill is down to the farmer.
“Just because they are Angus or Hereford does not make them great, they may not be finished right.
“My team are looking for 320-380kg, with a fat score of 4 upwards and R grades. People are always surprised I don’t select all Angus or Hereford, but it’s all about the meat underneath not what looks good in a field.”
From Drimnagh to Dubai
In Dubai for Gulfood, Morris explains that John Stone evolved through his work with Russel Meats, which is owned by John Stone, and Kepak. Morris started work as a butcher in Ireland when he left school at 15 before moving to the Channel Island where he met John Stone and worked in his specialist meat catering group Russel Meats.
Russel Meats was one of the first meat companies to offer mail order meat, which it started in 1997 and when looking to expand into more markets it teamed up with Kepak in 2002. Today, the John Stone company operates within the Kepak Group and sells Irish beef to top chefs around the world.
Dry aged beef
According to Allan, the benefits of dry aged beef mean that if it’s done right the moisture is removed and the flavour concentrated in the beef.
“A lot of people in the market are using salt walls and other gimmicks, but we don’t need salt walls as it removes moisture, but we use humidity control, temperature and air flow.”
And how long it takes, he says, depends on each piece of meat. Once its ready, it can be different amount of days, depending on the beef. It’s down to the butcher’s touch.”
John Stone beef, he says, is known around the world for its kitchen-ready format, with minimal preparation left for chefs.
It supplies more than 3,500 restaurants, including The Merrion hotel, the Marker, the Westbury, Thyme and The Fatted Calf in Athlone, while internationally the company sells into Switzerland’s premium and largest supermarket chain Migros.
While John Stone is selling Irish grass-fed beef into top end restaurants worldwide, Allan says that while chefs outside of Ireland do not have the same selection of beef available to them, the competition for the business of such chefs is intense.
“Ireland is competing against the biggest beef producers in the world and we have to make sure the beef consistently performs time and time again and we have to innovate and bring new products to make chefs lives easier.
“The consumer wants a lean meat that also has fat and that’s where grass-fed beef works.” But, he says, grass-fed beef has a poor reputation as it traditionally has been associated with other countries and has come from the dairy herd or older animals and that’s a challenge that faces the industry here, he says, coupled with more beef from the dairy herd coming on stream.
And the whole industry has a role to play in this, he says.