by By Jorge Elías (US Correspondent)
Sunday, May 18, 1997
Chicago, Illinois. So much was talked about ³carnal relationships² between Argentina and the US that the North Americans ended up sinking their teeth in the Argentine delicacy after more than six decades of prohibition. And they seemed to have liked it, to judge from the diligence of the jaws which yesterday mercilessly chewed up part of the 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of fresh beef arrived from the Pampas.
This happened during the first day of the event which the National Restaurant Association has been organizing for 34 years, which is regarded in the US as something next to a virtually unmissable engagement by restauranteurs, hotel owners and caterers. The McCormick Place, an enormous exhibition center with pavilions caressing the Michigan Lake, woke up to a mild scent of foods, as though it were a huge pressure cooker where half the world has come to soak a piece of bread.
By mid-August last year this place witnessed the evening celebration previous to the Convention where Bill Clinton and Al Gore were confirmed for the second time as candidates to the White House by their fellow members of the Democratic Party. But now the prevailing spirit is of a different nature. Since yesterday and till Wednesday, the point is to taste and compare foods in order to confirm quality and consequently to place a concrete order of that specific make.
Or of that specific origin, in the case of Argentina, explains the agricultural consultant in the US, José Molina, once the introduction of the annual 20,000 ton-quota (quite modest for a country spending 313,000 billion dollars in food per year) is under way, after Washington definitively raises the ban on meat due to aphtous fever.
Tentatively, June 24, once the White House has published the resolution in the Federal Register, would be the due date for the first shipment. That day, which is provisional for the time being, is the usual expiry date of the three month term for procedures filed in the Budget Office.
Nevertheless, until yesterday Argentine fresh meat was still forbidden. Or, at the very least, there were restrictions on it. No wonder a veterinarian from the United States Department of Agriculture attentively scrutinized the movements of José, the stand cook, born in the Argentine province of Tucumán and hired for the event, who was forced to wear special shoes and a plastic handle knife, among other things, while working at the gas barbecue emulating the typical Argentine log and charcoal grill.
The stand, under the auspices of the Argentine Department of Agriculture, bears the number 2815. It is one among ten thousands of its own kind. But in many of these, unlike in the Argentine stand, the pituitary gland remains unaltered before the skills of an efficient dishwasher machine or a cutting-edge microwave oven.
Among the Argentine businessmen are representatives of Nutryte, Friar, Cocarsa, Nelson, Argenbeef, Arre Beef, Argentine Beef, Prinex, Quickfood, and the Association of Angus Breeders, to mention just a few.
The 300 kilograms of fresh beef, including sirloin, and typical Argentine cuts like short loin, ribs (including short and prime ribs) and rump, arrived in Chicago on Saturday, according to the Vice-consul Carlos Layus. Until the event, they remained within the airport premises under the strict vigilance of the Customs staff.
The taste of this beef, served in juicy slices on bread, is very different from the meat eaten by the North Americans. The reason: in the US cattle are fed on grains and in Argentina, on pasture.