Discovering Wagyu at Sake and the City

On Monday, October 28 event space 404 NYC was resplendent with the smells and tastes of beef and sake as the Japan External Trade Organization New York (JETRO) presented Sake and the City II – Discover Japanese Wagyu.

JETRO, a government-regulated organization that works to promote mutual trade and investment between Japan and the rest of the world, also helps small to medium sized Japanese firms maximize their global export potential. At Sake and the City II JETRO brought experts in the Japanese wagyu beef industry and sake distributors together for an afternoon of seminars and tastings.

Literally meaning “Japanese cow,” wagyu encompasses the breeds of cattle that are born and raised in Japan. According to officials from ZEN-NOH, the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, only 0.2% of Japanese wagyu is exported to the US. Sake and the City II served as a platform on which the Japan Wagyu Beef Export Promotion Committee could extol the virtues of Japanese wagyu beef to an American audience.

In the first seminar of the day, Yosuke Yamaguchi of ZEN-NOH described the essence of Japanese Wagyu. A specialist in horticulture and livestock general planning, Yamaguchi focuses on sales of ZEN-NOH meats to the US, establishing relationships with restaurants, retailers, and consumers.

Yamaguchi says the cattle in Japan are raised “like part of the family with tender loving care.” They are even given names and massaged. They are eventually sent to slaughter, and the Japanese industry evaluates these former family members and grades them based on yield and meat quality, including the marbling, color, firmness, and quality of fat. There are three elements in making delicious beef: Texture, aroma, and flavor.

wagyu, Japanese beef, JETRO, sake,, Timothy Sullivan, Chef Abe Hiroki, EN Japanese Brasserie, NYC
Grade A5 Japanese Wagyu, the highest quality beef in Japan

Seminar attendees had a taste of A5 beef, the highest quality in Japan. As it’s not available in the US, this was a special treat.

Out on the main floor, US-based distributors poured a variety of sake, some of which are not available in New York. Several of the choices complement wagyu. Some of the standouts:

Sakestory by Kiai’s Mochikko (Rice Baby) from Tsukinowa Shuzo in Iwate
Using 100% mochi rice, the kind found in rice cakes, Rice Baby makes a good pairing with lighter foods, including deli meats.

Strawberry Nigori by the Homare Sake Brewery of Fukushima, served by Nishimoto Trading Co., LTD.
This sake’s creamy texture is both sweet and sour and tastes great chilled with club soda or even milk.

Naba Shouten of Akita’s Minato Harbor Namagenshu Futsu Shu distributed by Winebow through Akita Sake Promotion and Export Council (ASPEC), a consortium of five award-winning sake breweries of Akita Prefecture in Northern Japan
This undiluted and unpasteurized sake has a mushroom flavor that goes well with grilled meat.

wagyu, Japanese beef, JETRO, sake,, Timothy Sullivan, Chef Abe Hiroki, EN Japanese Brasserie, NYC
Sake Samurai Timothy Sullivan, sake educator and founder of

To help guests decide how best to pair sake with wagyu, Sake Samurai Timothy Sullivan and Chef Abe Hiroki teamed up for a seminar. Fukuoka native Chef Hiroki is the Executive Chef of EN Japanese Brasserie, melding different traditional Japanese cooking techniques with fresh ingredients to create modern Japanese dishes. The founder of, Sullivan is a tireless champion of sake, teaching, consulting, and writing about all things related to promoting sake outside of Japan.

Dispelling the myth that sake goes well with only sushi or sashimi, Chef Hiroki prepared three dishes containing wagyu while Sullivan describe why sake goes with them.

For the wagyu tartar with Japanese vegetables, Sullivan chose an umeshu (plum sake with no sugar added) by Nanbu Bijin. A standard Junmai by Fukuju goes well with thinly sliced shabu shabu style wagyu over greens. Since sushi is synonymous with Japanese cuisine, Chef Hiroki prepared wagyu as sushi over vinegared rice for the last dish, which Sullivan paired with a classic Yamahai Junmai Ginjo, Kiminoi Emperor’s Well.

wagyu, Japanese beef, JETRO, sake,, Timothy Sullivan, Chef Abe Hiroki, EN Japanese Brasserie, NYC
Chef Abe Hiroki of EN Japanese Brasserie

“Pairing sake with non-Japanese food or non-traditional Japanese food is going to be the next frontier for all of us who are in the restaurant business and the sake business,” says Sullivan. “You can translate that into bringing sake home and having those wonderful pairings for American tastes.”

To see more pictures from Sake and the City II – Discover Japanese Wagyu, please check out JapanCulture•NYC’s Flickr set.