Beef. Some would say that it’s the heartbeat of our province (second to energy, perhaps), and our country is known for producing some of the best beef in the world. Our ranchers are undeniably passionate about raising cattle – farming is a lifestyle, not a career.
I’m no stranger to the cattle industry, even though my career focus has been poultry. I went to university with ranchers’ offspring, and it was common to see them travel home on weekends during calving season, often missing a few days of class to help heifers with their young’uns. I was schooled on meat quality and beef production by Dr. Mick Price and Dr. Erasmus Okine, both legendary professors at my alma mater, even completing a term project, which included an analysis of a small cow-calf operation near Onoway, Alberta. For two summers, I worked for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as a meat inspector at Lakeside Packers in Brooks, Alberta. And, of course, like a proper “born and raised” Albertan, I love steak.
Canadian beef is exported the world over, and we’ve forged strong relationships with many countries. Our largest export market is the United States, but unbeknownst to many, one of Canadians’ favourite holiday destinations is our third largest beef export market – Mexico. According to the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, Mexico represents 8% of Canada’s total beef exports, and from the sounds of it, chefs across the country are enamoured by the quality of Canadian beef. Do you blame them?!
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to taste the handiwork of Mexico’s culinary industry. I was invited to a tapas dinner at the Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence, where eight of Mexico’s finest chefs were challenged with using unconventional cuts of Canadian beef to prepare delightful tapas dishes. The chefs were divided into four teams, and each team collaborated to prepare a dish that embraced Mexican culture and cuisine.
Team 1 included Jonatán Gómez Luna and Fernanda Silva. They created an inverted tostada, using a wedge cut. The beef was cooked, sous-vide, for twenty hours and served with a mole sauce (but, not the chocolate variety). It was topped with crunchy tostada, fresh greens and crisp radishes.
The second team was comprised of Alexis Bostelmann and Patrick Cros. They created a rib sope – a dish originating from central and southern Mexico. The base is a circle of fried masa, which is ground maize soaked in lime juice, and it was served with a hibiscus morita (smoked jalapeno pepper) sauce. The sope was served with a shot of mezcal, an alcohol also made from the agave plant.
Our third dish was prepared by Javier Plascencia and Federica Lopez. They showcased flavours from two different regions of Mexico – the Riviera Maya and the Baja Peninsula. A beef ceviche tostada, using the tri-tip cut, showcased the smoky flavours common to Mayan cuisine, and a tostada made with teres major (shoulder) carpaccio showcased charred flavours common to Baja California.
Lastly, Team 4, made up of Josefina santa Cruz and Guillermo Gonzalez Beristain, created a twist on a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. Known as a torta, our final dish was a sandwich made with a white baguette, Montreal steak, fresh carrots and greens, and a tangy sauce.
The food was truly amazing. The smokiness of various peppers and spices, and the combination of flavours were a delight for my palate. Each dish was unique and each chef’s story was captivating. It was an honour to be in the presence of so much talent.
Since the evening, I’ve been reminiscing about my trip to Mexico, a couple of years ago, and dreaming of beaches, tequila, and incredible food. Mexico is a beautiful country, with impressive culture and cuisine, and knowing they’re sourcing beef from Canadian farmers is a big bonus.