This year marks the 5th year of a contest called the World Steak Challenge. A competition with one simple aim, to find the best steak in the world. Prior to the launch of this bold endeavour, there have been various attempts at creating a steak contest in the hope to answer a hotly contested question, where in the world is the best beef steak produced? Having worked in various countries around the world and with many chefs of different nationalities, everyone has a point of view, but until 2015 there was no global contest to put those opinions to the test.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview one of the creators of the World Steak Challenge and ask them how the contest came about:
Interview with Aidan Fortune, deputy editor of Global Meat News
I began by asking What was the catalyst for the contest? And how the idea took shape?Aidan: “We wanted to create a competition that would become the benchmark for quality beef around the world, and one that the entire industry could get behind. And what better than showcasing steak! The competition involved a lot of research into international flavours and cuts, as well as ensuring that it would be something that beef producers would be interested in participating in. Once we determined that the demand was there, there was no stopping us!”
What technical problems did the organisers have to overcome?
Aiden: “We work with the International Meat Trade Association to ensure that any potential entrants are aware of their eligibility to enter the World Steak Challenge. We also consulted with experts from the meat industry to determine which cuts should be judged and how the entries should be presented to ensure a fair process for all involved.”
How do you feel the contest has progressed in the first five years?
Aiden: “From strength-to-strength! Every year we’re astounded by the level of engagement from judges, entrants and winners. It’s something the international beef industry has really gotten behind and the number of entries has grown every year since its inception. The very fact we’re taking it on the road to Dublin this year shows how big it has become in just five years and how large the appetite for the event is.”
Are there countries that wish to take part but due to current laws are unable?
Aiden: “To enter the World Steak Challenge your beef has to have been processed in the EU or processed in a meat plant that complies with EU regulations. Currently, there are 51 countries that have EU approved plants, in Europe, North America, South America, Australasia, Asia and Africa, making it a truly global contest.”
How do you raise the profile of the contest so it continues to grow and expand?
Aiden: “Raising awareness for the World Steak Challenge is vital for its continued success and it’s a collaborative effort from the editorial, marketing and external communications teams to push the World Steak Challenge on social media and in the international press. Of course, the best endorsement of the World Steak Challenge is when we see a category or medal winner displaying the logo on their product or as part of their marketing. It means the entrants and winners value the World Steak Challenge and are proud to show it off it. The more this happens, awareness of the competition grows and that is a win for everyone involved.”
Are there any changes to the format of this year’s competition?
Aiden: “Besides it being in Dublin, the only major change is that the World Steak Challenge is taking place over two days with all of the judging taking place on the first day. On the second day there is a study tour taking in the best of Irish food organised by Official Host Partner, Bord Bia, this will give the international panel of judges a chance to sample the tastes of Ireland before the winners of this year’s contest are announced in the evening.”
Being a judge
Once again, I’ve been asked to be on an international panel of judges for the World Steak Challenge and of course, I’m very honoured to be invited. Besides being an opportunity to taste a lot of great steaks, it is a rare opportunity for me to discuss and learn more about beef production and the different approaches taken by farmers, ranchers and producers to create great memorable steaks. Some producers prefer to wet age their steak, some prefer a more traditional dry ageing process.
Each steak is numbered so the marking impartial, we get to see a steak in its raw form and mark it for its Appearance, Aroma, Colour, Marbling, Consistency of Fat Trim and a Discretionary Mark. In its raw form, you can tell a lot more about whether the steak has been wet or dry aged. If it has been dry aged then the texture of the meat is firmer and the fat is dryer in appearance, some times crinkly and lifting away from the meat. From the colour of the fat, you can also tell whether the cattle was corn or grass fed; grass feeding usually makes the fat more yellow in colour, which comes from the beta carotene in the grass.
Then a second steak is bought out cooked medium rare and lightly seasoned with sea salt and this is cut into pieces, tasted and given marks for Tenderness, Appearance, Flavour, Succulence, Aroma and a Discretionary Mark.
Each judge adds up the raw and cooked steak marks and the papers are taken away from before we start the process again. Behind the scenes, our judging sheets are carefully checked to make sure the marks have been added up correctly.
For all of this to go smoothly there’s a lot of planning involved, making sure all of the people who wish to enter have read the rules and shipped the beef fillets and sirloins in time to get them to the event. Travel and hotel rooms need arranging, grills (for cooking the steaks) need organising, skilled chefs who know how to cook every steak medium rare need hiring, even breakfast and lunch needs to be on hand for the judges when we take a break. Of course, lunch is a light vegetarian.
So if you’re a fan of great steaks, look out on social media July 10th to find out who and where this year’s World’s Best Sirloin, World’s Best Rib Eye and the World’s Best Fillet have come from. If the first four years are anything to go by the answer, surprisingly, is many different places!
©Kevin Ashton 2019 all right reserved