A Cut Above

Renowned chef Alex Craciun is the UK ambassador for Japanese Wagyu Beef, working on behalf of JFOODO, the Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Centre, which promotes Japanese agricultural, forestry, fishery, and food products abroad.

Alex Craciun is, in the very truest sense, a student of cooking. Riding high for almost a decade as a sous chef under Jason Atherton at Pollen Street Social and latterly at Gordon Ramsey’s MAZE, in 2014 he took a one-way flight to Japan with a rough plan but no visa, no contacts and no grasp of the language. Camping out on the doorstep of Tokyo’s legendary three-Michelin star restaurant RyuGin, he was eventually invited inside to start over again as a pot washer.

“It was tough going from working as a chef in a Michelin-starred kitchen in the UK, to effectively going back to humble beginnings in Japan, but I wanted to understand, to get to the heart of a cuisine that I’d loved and admired from afar but never truly experienced.

After a time, Alex was tasked with helping with morning prep, before eventually taking on pre-service mise en place. With a career already made in the UK, this wasn’t the first time he had cooked with one of the country’s most famous exports, Wagyu beef, but it was the first time he had seen it treated with such reverence and respect.

When you first see it [Wagyu], you’re blown away by the unique fat marbling and by the amazing, rich umami flavour and slightly sweet aroma. But Japan was where I got more interested in it, gaining more exposure by cooking with it more. It’s just a beautiful, melt-in-the-mouth ingredient that you can tell has had so much attention poured into it.

Alex has since returned to the UK to work with mentor Jason Atherton to set up Sosharu London, before going on to set up AC19, his very own East London Japanese-inspired pop up and event catering company, focusing on dishes like cherry blossom cured salmon, tonkatsu crumbed pork and of course, Japanese Wagyu.

He’s now working with JFOODO to promote the virtues of Japanese Wagyu to UK chefs. This March, Alex and JFOODO hosted an exclusive, interactive London seminar for UK development chefs and restaurateurs keen to know more about Japanese Wagyu. Taking place at Westminster Kingsway College, the key aim was to educate and inspire participants, giving them the insight, knowledge, and confidence to work with the Japanese wagyu while making it a more commonly used product in the UK, both in restaurants and at home.

The seminar provided an opportunity for dialogue exploring how best to serve Japanese wagyu to a UK audience – the cuts and complementary ingredients – and to look for an opportunity for Japanese wagyu to reach consumers’ dining tables.

“When it comes to Japanese Wagyu, I talk a lot about theatre and experience. And that’s what I was able to impart to other chefs (during the seminar). It’s an experience cooking with it, the fat content, the sweetness, the smell when it hits the pan. We talked about best practice during the cooking process – how it needs to be a very, very light cook, quite medium, not rare. The fat content is quite high, but it melts at a much lower point than normal beef, which gives you that unique melt-in-the-mouth texture.

Done well, it’s an incredible eating experience too; you can see it on diners’ faces every time. Especially those who are new to Wagyu. They try it, and they’re totally blown away, like ‘wow, what was that?’ There’s no better reaction for a chef, it’s why we do what we do.”

To find out more about JFOODO’s mission to bring Japanese Wagyu to the UK, visit:  https://wagyu-jfoodo.jetro.go.jp/europe/uk/