Wagyu Holidays: December, 2018

A Q&A with SUSHISAMBA Corporate Chef John Um


Corporate Chef John Um’s recent visit to Japan’s Wagyu Academy in Takasaki and the wagyu auction at Tokyo Meat Market informed his wagyu themed holiday menu with invaluable first-hand knowledge and inspiration. The Wagyu Holidays menu debuts at SUSHISAMBA Las Vegas location on December 1st.

We sat down with Chef John to find out what inspired the trip, and learn more about this hugely popular Japanese delicacy…


What inspired you to travel to Japan to learn about Wagyu?

I wanted to get close with this one specific ingredient for full understanding, and see it from a traditional perspective. With wagyu beef increasing in popularity not only in the U.S. but around the world, it was great to go to the source to not only understand more about wagyu, but to better understand why it is truly worth the price.


What is different about Wagyu vs. other beef? How does it differ when you are cooking with it?

Wagyu Beef has its origins in Japan and doesn’t just relate to one breed of cattle, but a number of different breeds which come from the area. The cattle that are in the category of wagyu beef have a high degree of marbling and because of this, are regarded as high quality and demand a high price. Pure wagyu beef is considered a delicacy and is why sub-breeds have appeared in places like Australia and the US. However, these sub-breeds are not “traditional” wagyu and may not carry the same properties as the original.

My biggest cooking tip when it comes to wagyu is to avoid adding any butter whatsoever when cooking wagyu.  One of the best things about wagyu is its butter taste, so there is never a need to add more when cooking with it.


Tell us about the Wagyu Academy in Takasaki: what happens there? Who did you meet?


It was great experience, there was about 50 of us from all over the world. We were educated about the basics of wagyu, butcher techniques, wagyu varieties from different prefectures and cooking with different cuts. We were also able to taste every part of the cattle. Believe or not, eating every single part of wagyu wasn’t an easy task!


Share some highlights from your experience at the Wagyu auction at Tokyo Meat Market Co.

The ​Wagyu auction, similar to the Tsukiji (now Toyosu) gets very intense. The auction attracts vigorous bidding from accredited buyers representing wholesalers and large retailers who gather around to inspect each body of marbling; the wagyu has already been gradedand branded for quality and yield.

One thing I found very interesting is that some cattle with really good marbling, that I easily thought would get an A5 grading, can get A4 or lower grade. The  overall body structure and quality also play a big role in the grading system.


What is your favorite dish from the Wagyu December menu?

​​All of our wagyu dishes are very unique, so it is hard to choose. I would have to say the Gunkan–of wagyu striploin, truffle snow, crispy sweet potato, and black garlic, and Wagyu Antichucho from our robata grill with–wagyu short rib, aji panca, aji amarillo, negi stems, golden potatoes, aji amarillo aioli–is another great option.