At the end of ACDC Lane in Melbourne’s CBD lies a Peruvian grill which serves some of the meanest beef dishes you’ll find anywhere in Oz.
Pastuso is pioneered by head chef Alejandro Saravia who understands and cares about his cuts of beef, thus providing a premium product on customers’ plates. Before my ‘Jess Pryles’ experience, I was fairly in the dark about beef and what we should and shouldn’t be considering when buying, cooking and preparing beef.
I mean, when it comes to dinner, and choosing a beef dish more specifically, a quick glance at the menu generally leads to a choice between Rib-Eye, Scotch, or Eye Fillet. The only factor to consider is how well it needs to be cooked. Oh, how wrong I was.
I had the luxury of meeting a woman by the name of Jess Pryles. If there is anyone on the planet who knows everything there is to know about beef, it's Jess. She is a genuine carnivore and has dedicated her life to understanding the many elements within the beef industry. It was here at Pastuso I would be having my first ‘Jess Pryles’ experience.
Australian Beef partnered with Jess to travel around Australia to meet the farmers and people that make our beef so exceptional. Using her knowledge and showcasing her passion for beef, Jess expressed the importance of a farmer in the process of working backward from when meat is served on a plate. Jess has also recently released her book Hardcore Carnivore, which encompasses mouth-watering recipes—all to do with beef. It’s the type of cookbook you need, not just one that sits on the coffee table. It functions as a guide for those who want to cook awesome beef dishes and make them an addition to their weekly diet.
We had a chat to Jess and funnily enough we were moved from our interview spot, forcing us to do what any other Melburnian would do—cozying up on ACDC lane, sitting on milk crates and talking all things beef.
Jess, tell us a little about yourself: Well, my name is Jess Pryles and I am a professional carnivore! And I say that because people ask me what I do and I do a lot of things. I do food styling, professional photography, recipe development, I have my own line of seasonings, I speak at conferences, but they all are to do with beef. I am also a co-founder of the Australasian BBQ Alliance which is one of the premier resources for American style BBQ information for Australia. We sanction a whole lot of competitions like Meat Stock and a few other festivals.
How did this obsession with beef begin? So I became obsessed on a visit to Texas to understand why brisket is so different over here to over there. That led to trying to understand about breed and genetics, which made me realise I couldn’t even cook a good steak in my own home. And now my book called Hardcore Carnivore has just come out. Australian Beef reached out to me because they wanted to tell the story of why Australian Beef is the greatest meat on earth by connecting people to stories about how it ends up on the plate. Great beef has a lot to do with the chef but it’s got even more to do with the raw ingredients.
The drive for you was just Texas? It was going to Texas and being obsessed with American-style BBQ. I had a frustration, I would stand at the supermarket and not know what I was buying. I would buy a Porterhouse just because I could cut the fat off in one go. Knowing that now sends a chill down my spine. I thought it was unacceptable not knowing what a lot of guys know. Now I do a lot of live fire cooking and smoking and just became obsessed.
Minor interruption as we are moved from inside—we are going to finish this interview old school: Sitting on milk crates in a laneway in Melbourne, how good is this?
So where did you start? I started a blog and wrote creatively about beef, but blogging about other people’s beef wasn’t something I wanted to do, so I started cooking and sharing my ideas of recipes that I was being inspired by, like the southern influences, the chillis, I spent a lot of time burning things in my kitchen but my recipes still went to publishing every week and everyone was waiting for them.
Tell us a little about your recipes: I’m always looking for new inspiration and new ideas, and enjoy seasonal cooking. You want to do braises and warm comfort food in the winter and lighter things in the summer. I try to mix it up with what I’m doing but it is always all about beef.
What work goes into these recipes? It’s a couple of things. You have the idea of recipe planning and then you have to test it to make sure it works, so you should probably test it on your friends and make sure it isn’t terrible and then you have to make it appealing to everyone, you have to up your game as a photographer and you have to up your food styling, you have to make it look as good as it would at an eatery. So there is a lot to do and I wonder why there isn’t another one of me to help me!
If only there were more of you!
Give us a glimpse of what life looks like for you: I was making friends with Pitmaster’s and cooking with them overnight how they cook. I’m not sure if you’ve been to Austin but its one hell of a town, heaps of fun and BBQ-obsessed, I was in Australia just a month ago to launch my book, Hardcore Carnivore. I came home two days later, flew to St. Louis to appear at a BBQ festival to do demos and now I’m back home. So when I think about what I do, I work from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed and it is all meat-related. But you know, that’s the thing about being an entrepreneur! And there are so many emails and social network things to do. My book comes out in America next year and we are working on those edits too, so it’s full on!
Do you have any inspirational figures? I get more inspired by ingredients than people. I’m so envious of chefs with great palates that have an ability to put food together, but I’m not a chef. Cooking is accessible to everyone. It's more getting excited about all the chillis I had access to when I moved to the States, the quality of the meat. The big thing that set me apart was I wanted to challenge myself; Rib Eye, Scotch fillets, and Eye fillets don’t need any more help right? So I wanted to cook the whole animal, bit by bit.
"I made it my business to explore other cuts, flat irons, cheeks, Osso Buco. Its more of a challenge and I think there is a responsibility to know that."
I mean we all know Tomahawk looks sexy but not everyone can afford to eat a Tomahawk on a regular basis. You can afford to eat beef on a regular basis if you choose the right cuts and understand what those cuts are and how to cook them.
Does this have any correlation with your book? The tag-line of the book is ‘cook meat like you mean it’ with the idea that, there is information in the book that will make you a better meat cook. It’s split into the forequarter and hindquarter. So the forequarter is information like: What temperature? Why salt? What’s the difference in grilling? And the back is all recipes that are designed to use frequently with a few options to push you outside of your comfort zone. It’s meant to be accessible to everyone, so everyone can enjoy cooking awesome recipes using beef. Like there is a recipe involving short-ribs and Cola and some other fun stuff in there.
Ok, so it’s accessible to everyone? Yes, It’s all about using the different cuts of beef and making it a regular part of your diet, without making it this insane over-the-top thing, and just recognising it can be a source of lean protein and at other times can be overindulgent. Because Australia is such a large land mass with such a small population we have access to some pretty remarkable farmers who produce incredible quality beef.
Tell me about Australian farmers: All the farmers on this trip I took with Australian Beef, do more than the bare minimum for their cattle. They go above and beyond in terms of welfare, environment, water. Anthony Bordane has this famous line,
“I don’t just care about animals because you're supposed to, I care about the welfare of animals because they taste better that way.”
So everyone wins when a farmer puts in more effort, which is what we see with Australian farmers.
Any standout farmers on the tour? We were at a Charolais farm in NSW in Orange and they were really looking into genetics, so they figured out crossing a Charolais cattle, which is the white cattle that they have, with a bit of Angus gives you this really amazing combination of high yield and quality beef. The farmer has these giant pastures and we are standing in the middle of this field with a drone and all the cattle are looking at this thing flying in the sky and they are frolicking. The farmer was like, “they are having a little play” and he knew them well enough to know they were having a good time. He actually cared.
Tell me about working backwards from a plate: So usually a lot of people talk about paddock to plate and farm to table, and the concept of traceability is the same. At the end of the day what everyone can agree on is that they are eating beef because it tastes great. It tastes great because of the talent of the chef, but they have to start with a great raw product. So everyone is like ‘I had this sick meal at Pastuso’ and you think, why was it so good? And it's because of the meat they are using, and how the farmer has connected with the chef because chefs want to have that relationship with the really good quality product that is local and consistent. It depends on how much the chef cares about the product they are sourcing.
So the quality of meat here in Australia is top tier because of the farmers? It's because of both the farmers and Australia. From our natural resources like our pastures and our rolling green hills to the beautiful quality grass. What the animals eat affects the final product as well. In Australia, we have an amazing grass-fed product, which means we don’t have to finish cattle on grain, which is used just to fatten them up.
Whats coming up for you? I go back to Texas and then to Memphis to film a short BBQ documentary and then I’m back in Texas to speak at Tarleton State University on BBQ to the meat science department class. So there is a heap of meat science courses that cover PH levels plus so many other things.
There is no denying we need to acknowledge people like Jess Pryles and Australian farmers for the hard work they do behind the scenes. We see our beef beautifully presented on a plate, but what we don’t see is the process from the very beginning. How that plate in front of you didn’t begin with the chef nor with choosing where to go for dinner, it began with many hours of nurturing, research and much blood, sweat and tears. A lengthy process, which is hard work. More importantly we need care and passion in that process, it’s because of people like Jess Pryles and Australian farmers that we are so confident we can go almost anywhere in Australia and not worry about having bad beef, why you can recommend so many places to have a great steak and why you can even have quality beef in your own home. Jess Pryles and Australian farmers, thank you on behalf of Boss Hunting and please keep the care and passion in your work, for all our sakes.