One Cow Seven Courses
INTERVIEW AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATT MORNICK
A Vietnamese tradition is reborn
The new 4,000-square-foot Sevenbeef Steak House is an architectural marvel in Seattle’s Central District. Floors have geothermal heat; sound-dampening material lines ceiling beams; and natural light pours in from every corner. Yet the real ingenuity is in the supply chain. The plan is to use locally raised, grass-fed, grass-finished beef. That is, the entire cow.
Sevenbeef is one of only two places in Seattle (along with Renee Erickson’s newest restaurant, Bateau) that butchers the whole cow in-house. Yet there is really no place like it. After talking with owners and siblings Eric and Sophie Banh (Monsoon and Ba Bar) to understand the whole-cow program, the concept is beginning to look more like the future.
When did you get the idea for the whole cow program?
Eric: We have been buying locally sourced products for our restaurants for more than 15 years, far before there was a trend to sourcing locally. We do this because it is the best way to do business. Nearly all our food is locally sourced. During winter months, we source vegetables from California that we can’t get in Washington. But year round, we control where we source our protein. This includes cow, fish, and duck.
There were times when we required more prime beef cuts, but it was unavailable. Purveyors had promised it elsewhere or the market price was so high we were unable to sell it to customers. So eight years ago, we began exploring the benefits and challenges of buying a whole cow. It is very economical to purchase a whole cow. It is also very difficult. It is extremely time consuming. It takes 2–3 days for a whole cow to arrive. Add a day for our butcher to break down the animal and another day to process the ground beef, package, and store the meat.
You must also have all the right equipment to store and render full use of the animal. I knew it would be difficult before we opened. I didn’t fully grasp the amount of time involved. But we are committed to the program in part because Washington and Oregon have outstanding beef.
Local farmers are raising healthy cows, making this area an ideal location to pursue a whole-cow program. Once we established strong relationships with Jerry Foster’s Farm, Pat-n-Tam’s, and Gleason Ranch and ran through the costs of incorporating the in-house butchering, packaging, and storage, the benefits of the whole-cow program became clear.
Why does the whole cow program work for Sevebeef?
Eric: A cow is about 800 pounds of useable meat. Only 30–40 percent of this is finished on the grill. The rest, if done correctly, is processed into ground beef. The whole-cow program only works if we can utilize that amount of high-quality ground beef, and we do this with the Bò 7 Món menu. Five of the seven Bò 7 Món dishes require ground beef. It is also a tremendous way to showcase our most prideful national dish in Vietnam using the best beef available.
Why did you decide to use Bò 7 Món – the traditional Vietnamese seven-course beef dinner – as the basis for this restaurant?
Sophie: Today, Bò 7 Món is prolific in Vietnam. As Vietnamese and as chefs, we have high standards for Bò 7 Món. It is becoming more popular in the U.S. For example, restaurants are doing it in San Francisco. However, few places do it exceedingly well because the standard for quality meat has fallen so low.
Eric: The U.S. is very dependent on industrialized, corn-fed beef. The rest of the world is demanding the same. This is an unfavorable trend that has become the norm. It is my job to ensure we have the highest quality produce. We only purchase whole cows that are 100 percent grass fed and grass finished.
Explain grass-fed, grass-finished beef. How is this different from grass-fed beef at the store?
Big-market beef may be called grass fed, but just before slaughter animals are often finished with corn because corn is easy, cheap, and sweetens the meat. Corn is not a food for cows. They cannot digest it. It leads to very unhealthy animals. We’ve made a conscientious decision to prepare and serve local, grass-fed and grass-finished beef with our whole-cow program. The animals never eat corn.
What do you hope people take away after dining at Sevenbeef?
Sophie: It is important for people to come to Sevenbeef with an open mind. Grass-fed beef tastes entirely different from corn-fed beef. I want people to notice the difference.
The flavors and texture are truly distinct — so much so that when we initially opened, we received complaints. People thought we changed the traditional Bò 7 Món. This is not true. Our recipes are authentic and unchanged. The confusion is because we all are accustomed to eating corn-fed beef. The new texture and taste is recognizably different.
Eric: This is how we believe meat should be consumed. I’m convinced that no restaurant is undertaking a process like this and am proud to share Sevenbeef with everyone.
Matt Mornick is a Seattle-based commercial and fine art photographer with focus on food, still life, people, and the environment. His portfolio is available at mornick.com
SEVENBEEF’S STEAMED BEEF SAUSAGE
Recipe by Sophie Banh
When Sophie and Eric Banh grew up in Vietnam, there was no oven or grill in the family’s kitchen. In traditional Vietnamese households, food was typically prepared using a wok or steam. This classic dish uses steam to bring out the subtle, sweet flavors of beef. The recipe is simple. You will need a steamer and ramekins.
(serves 2 people)
1 1/2 cup ground beef (preferably grassfed, grass-finished)
1/2 cup crushed peanuts (optional)
1/4 cup cooked and diced glass noodles
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 piece caulfat (optional)
Vietnamese rice crackers
Fill a steamer pot with water. Bring to boil. In a medium bowl, combine ingredients the beef, peanuts, glass noodles, salt, garlic, pepper and egg. Separate mixture into 4–6 balls, each weighing 2–3 ounces. If available, wrap each ball in caulfat (not required). When water is at full boil, place each ball in a ramekin within the steamer for 5–10 minutes.
Make a small cut into the beef sausage with a sharp knife. If beef does not stick to the knife, the sausage is finished. Serve in ramekin, with the cooking juice, and Vietnamese rice crackers. Garnish with parsley.