The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Yakiniku Futago
'Yakiniku', which is being recognized as a genre of Japanese cuisine in the United States.
New York / USA
The start of the US market development for 'Yakiniku'
Started in 2010 by the Lee brothers, twins from Osaka, Japan, the yakiniku chain 'Yakiniku Futago' has expanded to 50 stores including overseas stores in Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. In May of 2015, they opened their first New York City outpost, 'Yakiniku Futago', in the Chelsea neighborhood, known as the center for creativity, brimming with countless artists and designers. The modern-styled restaurant, which harmonizes a futuristic atmosphere and the taste of 'Wa' (Japan), is steadily gaining popularity. According to Mr. Junpei Sakai, General Manager, "The degree of yakiniku penetration in the United States is still small compared to sushi and ramen, and there are only a few places – including ours – doing it in New York." The restaurant aims to expand into the American market by promoting the concept and flavor of "Japanese Yakiniku", which is different from Korean Barbeque.
The desire to promote authentic Wagyu
That's why the restaurant is actively adopting products from Japan when it comes to the beef for yakiniku, its signature cuisine. "In the US, the ‘Wagyu' (Japanese beef) name has been converted into a brand, and there is no shortage of shops, including steakhouses that offer Wagyu on the menu. The number of customers that specifically order Wagyu beef at our restaurant is increasing."
On the other hand, the definition of Wagyu in the United States is unclear. While proclaiming to be Wagyu, much of what arrives to the table is actually ‘Washu' cattle from the US (a breed that is a mix of Japanese cattle and Black Angus, which results in something quite different from Japanese beef in quality and taste). Others make the mistake of thinking Wagyu is strictly Kobe beef.
Therefore, at the restaurant, only authentic Japanese Wagyu is called Wagyu, and there is a designated Wagyu section on the menu to differentiate it from beef from the US. Waiters are always prepared to explain the origin of production if asked. "30% from Kagoshima Prefecture, 70% from Miyazaki Prefecture. Quality is focused on the highest possible A5 and A4 classifications. Meat is imported at a special price from a meat trader in Japan through a contractual agreement. The selection of meat is determined by them, and we do not demand specific areas of origin. Thanks to a relationship built on trust, we can serve the finest meat at reasonable prices that can't be imitated elsewhere."
Unexplored flavors of special cuts
The most popular item at the restaurant is the Hamideru Kalbi, the ace of Wagyu section. This huge piece of kalbi (ribeye) literally cannot fit on the grill. With just one piece, diners can enjoy 4 types of cuts, each with different tastes and textures – the ‘rib shin‘, ‘rib maki', ‘kaburi' and ‘geta'. With a limit of pieces every day, this sells out immediately.
Wagyu Deluxe Sampler, developed by the restaurant and geared towards advanced Japanese Wagyu fans, allows one to enjoy special cuts piece by piece. In the US, the centerpiece of typical steakhouses revolves around the loin (sirloin, filet, rib loin). Other cuts, such as the shoulder and round are too hard and not suitable for steak, so they are minced and made into hamburger patties, etc.
However, in the case of Wagyu – which is beautifully marbled and tender – these parts are delicious when grilled. According to Mr. Sakai, "Special cut steaks can only be experienced with yakiniku that utilizes beef from Japan. We present a set of four special cuts such as the ‘rump' (sirloin butt), ‘sankaku' (three corners), ‘kata' (shoulder), and ‘ichibo' (aitchbone) which are different in marbling and texture, so our customers can understand and enjoy the intense appeal of Wagyu.
Offering regional sake that pairs with wagyu beef
Aside from Wagyu, the original Japanese sauce used in Futago locations in Japan is also flown in. "When made here, the flavor inevitably goes off the mark," explains Mr. Sakai. Also from Japan are condiments including kombu dashi, bonito flakes, and soy sauce. Additionally, the noodles used in the popular menu item ‘Morioka Cold Noodle' are also produced in Japan. "As New York City has a Japanese food trading company, it isn't hard to get a hold of general Japanese foods," added Mr. Sakai.
Meanwhile, in regard to sake, it is "the focus of the drink menu that 50% of customers order," and the restaurant carries more than 10 notable brands to choose from. Highly recommended among them, as a sake compatible with Wagyu beef, is "Kubota", a special Ginjo Genshu (undiluted sake) locally brewed in Niigata Prefecture. "It holds up to the yakiniku sauces, thanks to a stronger body that comes from a higher alcohol content than regular sake."
The majority of regular Wagyu customers request this brand. "Such pairings were born thanks to the fact that we are in New York City. It would never have happened in Japan," according to Mr. Sakai. "The discovery of these new pleasures has been more interesting than anything else."
Although sales and awareness are constantly increasing, the number one concern now is the dearth of authentic and experienced kitchen staff that can expertly handle and cut Wagyu. "If improperly butchered or cut, the flavor of the Wagyu can be ruined. It's hard to recruit seasoned professionals who understand that fact in the US. Even if you obtain high quality Japanese ingredients, it is meaningless if there are no people who know how to cook them," summed up Mr. Sakai. "In order to serve authentic Wagyu beef to American customers nationwide, I do feel it is necessary to improve knowledge and skills as well, not just importing the commodity."