By Kelly Villasuso
The first time Tom Kelly, owner of the Gearhart Ranch in Fort Davis, Texas and Wagyu Excelente Meat Company, tried Japanese Kobe beef was on a trip to South America about 15 years ago when he had a layover in Miami, Florida. He recounted watching steak after steak come out the kitchen door at Nobu Miami. As an oil man and a life-long cattle rancher — as well as a “connoisseur of all good things” — Kelly said he just had to try firsthand the beef that seemed to be throttling the fish at this world-renown sushi establishment. Kelly shared that he just knew something good was going to happen because he has found “in life, you get experience when you’re looking for something else.” And that’s just what he got when he encountered that single order of imported A5, $32 an ounce, pure Kobe beef — an experience that inadvertently enhanced his ranching business and his life.
Taking Chances … It’s in the Blood
Kelly is no stranger to taking chances and seizing opportunities — in fact, you could say it’s in his blood. His father, Tyrone Kelly, took one of the biggest chances one could imagine when he was just a senior in high school. Tyrone had a very serious bout of pneumonia from which he was having difficulty recovering in balmy New Orleans, Louisiana. So, he left his home and got on a train and headed to Alpine, Texas, where he was picked up by a family who had just lost their son the year before. Tyrone spent the first year with the Merrell Family in Fort Davis, Texas as house boy and eventually became a cattle rancher there. Had young Tyrone not taken that trip on a leap of faith, he would not have met and married the love of his life, Audrey (a music teacher who earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City, New York) and would not have had his son, Tom Kelly, to pass on his passion for ranching — and risk.
Kelly recounts his days as a child and the inspiration he found on the ranch spectacularly outlined by the breathtaking Davis Mountains and surrounded by cowboys … whom he shared, “are a special breed of people who take pride in their work … waking up every day with a smile on their faces waiting to get on their horses.”
The environs of southwest Texas in which he is still blessed to live are frequently the location for movies (more recently, ‘Let There Be Blood’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’) and in his youth drew such actors as James Dean and Rock Hudson to call the neighboring ranches home.
One movie, ‘Giant’ (1956), was a western filmed on Kelly’s uncle’s ranch, featuring Hudson, Dean, and Elizabeth Taylor, and inspired him to expand his goals from cattle ranching to oil and gas. Kelly stated, “Being a cattle rancher or an oil and gas man takes a similar breed – one who likes to take risks and can ride out the booms and the busts. I wanted to have that JR Ewing mystique.”
Kelly and his wife Claudia have a deep-rooted love for southwest Texas — in fact, they still own the home in which Kelly’s mother was born and in which he was raised. In 2005, Kelly became part owner of the historic Gearhart Ranch — a cattle ranch that has been in continuous operation since 1890 at which today’s cattlemen are third and fourth generation. Kelly worked closely with Martha Ann Gearhart overseeing the operations of the 32,000-acre ranch for six years before she passed, imparting full ownership of Gearhart and her final words to him: “There’s got to be a better way to make a living.” So, Kelly set out to find it on that influential research trip to South America where he tasted the “better way” and grabbed the Tajima (Japanese Black) bull by the horns.
Howdy, Wagyu! Welcome to Texas!
Because the infamous Kobe beef from Tajima-Gyu cattle can only be raised in Japan’s Hyōgo Prefecture according to the rules of the Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association, Kelly brought over the strongest Japanese-bred Wagyu bloodline to introduce at Gearhart. Adhering to the well-established holistic, sustainable traditions at Gearhart positioned Kelly and his new business, Wagyu Excelente, for success. Since launch in 2005, Wagyu Excelente and Gearhart have kept the Wagyu bloodline sacred, maintaining an antibiotic and hormone free herd that enjoys the finest Fort Davis mountain spring water and grasslands. It would seem Kelly’s risk paid off in the exceptional meat marbling and consistent nose-to-tail flavor in their meats. In the early days, Kelly had 300 head of cattle; today he enjoys 5000 head of F1 designated beef. It goes to say, no risk, no reward!
Sizzling Details About Wagyu Excelente
In the heart of Texas, the Gearhart Ranch and Hi View Ranch produce Wagyu Excelente, one of the finest brands of American Wagyu beef. The full blood Japanese Tajima black bulls are crossed with high grade Angus to produce a premium Wagyu beef with mouth-watering flavor, fantastic fine marbling, tender feel and a terrific dining experience.
Wagyu have the distinction of being the #1 marbling breed in the world. The intra-muscular marbling is high in oleic acid like olive oil, and has been shown to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Wagyu marbling contains mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and lower saturated fatty acids (SFA). We like to think of MUFA as the “good fat” that matched with salt and pepper are right seasonings to draw out Excelente aromatic umami flavors and juiciness.
To learn more about Wagyu Excelente, visit https://www.wagyuexcelente.com.