Stellar Executive Chef Christopher Millar

[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hen progressive Australian restaurant Stellar was approached by fine food distributor Indoguna to rear their own cattle earlier this year, Executive Chef Christopher Millar’s interest was piqued. The chef recently travelled to his home country, Australia, to visit some of Stellar’s producers, including the Tiana Park cattle farm that now rears Stellar’s Tajima herd.

The Tajima crossbred Wagyu originated from the Hyogo prefecture in Japan and was introduced into Australia in 1991. Out of the four Japanese breeds of beef cattle termed as Wagyu, the Tajima strain of Japanese Black is oft described as the best beef in the world.

Chef Millar tells us more about the fledgling partnership with the family-run Tiana Park cattle farm and what it means for the restaurant and its diners.

Why build this relationship with the farms?
In Singapore, everything is imported – there’s not much that’s growing here. And although we have a lot of fantastic products that we can import into Singapore, we don’t have so much of a connection or understanding of the producers themselves. So this was an interesting opportunity to get more involved with the ingredients we use.

Tell us more about your visit to the farm that’s now rearing Stellar’s cattle.
This is the Tiana Park farm in New South Wales that’s owned and run by the Strong family. It’s just the beginning, but now that we’ve met them, we want to see whether we can evolve, and maybe contribute ideas to the feed and other factors. Whatever we do, it will take three and a half years before we see the result (that’s how old the Wagyu is when it’s processed).

The Wagyu characters tend to be a bit more nervous than all the other breeds. Jo-Ann Strong, who oversees the Tiana Park farm, told us, “We concentrate on making every a good day for the cattle”, because if they feel disturbed or unhappy for whatever reason, it’s eventually going to affect the beef. So they concentrate on keeping them calm and relaxed. For example, at Tiana Park, the wagyu cattle are brought to the feedlot six months prior to processing. This is to help the cattle get used to their final surroundings, so the cattle do not experience any stress or anxiety when it is finally time to be processed, which ultimately affects the results of the marbling score and the quality of the meat.

Tajima Wagyu cattle at Tiana Park

What’s so special about Tajima beef?
In Australia there’s a tendency to focus on Angus beef and heritage cuts – Australians like beefy beef. It’s not necessary to us to have very soft, tender cuts. But of course with the introduction of Wagyu farming now, it’s a completely different type of taste – it’s all about the marbling score, a lot of the flavour is in the fats. What’s special about these Tajima cuts is that it’s a high quality product that still retains a real flavour and doesn’t become too gelat or overly fatty.
(The Tajima oyster blade cut has a marbling score of 7-8.)

What’s the best way to handle Tajima?
It comes down to the cut itself. They’re all quite different – when you braise, grill, and sous vide – texturally and flavour-wise. The best way is not to feel that you have to focus on what’re called the primary cuts. There are so much more interesting cuts to the Wagyu than those major cuts. That’s what I find great – to be able to work with over 20 cuts now.
(The ribeye, top sirloin, tenderloin and T-bone cuts are generally regarded as prime cuts.)

Why is having your own cattle good for the restaurant?
It’s the opportunity to use so many different parts – we’re experimenting and getting to look at all the different parts of the cattle. And it’s interesting not just for us but also the customers. Diners are now very discerning and concerned about where the ingredients come from, be it from a health perspective or just being interested in high quality products, instead of depending on the chef to say “this is a good cut of beef, just take it”.

Besides this collaboration, what else are you excited about this year?
I’m shortly going to go to France on another farm tour. We’re going to visit various producers there, from cheese, to caviar, all sorts really. It’s my first time visiting these producers so it’ll be really fun. We’re doing this as part of the P2 Suite and this journey is all about sourcing the best ingredients to create the menu. We’re going at this time of year as it’s a wonderful season.
(Stellar is working with Dom Perignon to design Singapore’s first permanent P2 Suite with seasonal food pairings that complement an ultra-premium version of the champagne.)

Specialty Tajima Wagyu cuts tasting flight (chuck rib, tri-tip and oyster blade): available in Stellar’s The Antipodes menu and a la carte three-course menu