“I’m looking at a line of twenty people right now—and it’s lunchtime,” boasts Luis Rubio, a chef at Corner Bistro, when asked if the mad-cow scare has hurt business. “Nobody says a thing, not even a joke about how the burger they’re eating may be their last.” Alexander Sanchez at Le Parker Meridien’s Burger Joint can relate: “We’ll have the news on about mad-cow this, mad-cow that, and people are too busy eating their burgers to even notice.”
News of “downer” Holsteins and bovine spinal matter is enough to turn anyone’s stomach. But it seems that many New Yorkers remain fearless carnivores—in large part because they also remain inveterate food snobs.
“We know where our meat comes from,” says Rubio. “The kind of infected beef is what you get at some fast-food places. Come on in—you have my word that you’ll live!” At Peter Luger Steakhouse, meat expert Amy Rubenstein says that last weekend may have been the busiest ever. “I think people trust us more than other places,” she says. “We select every piece by hand, and I’m telling you, we would never even think of buying meat from a Holstein.”
Neither would Robert Pence, owner of Oppenheimer Meats on the Upper West Side. “The meat from a Holstein is often what we call cannery meat,” he says. “It’s for places that cook it so well-done that it’s almost unrecognizable as beef.” His meat, on the other hand, is all top prime: “What that means is you have a cow, usually a bull, who is castrated and fed on grass before being slaughtered,” he explains, apparently unaware of the phrase “too much information.” “When I first heard about the mad cow, I’ll admit I was worried. But it hasn’t affected us, thank God.”
At Atkins-approved dinner parties around town, life also goes on as usual. “I’m not concerned,” says writer Winifred Gallagher, known for serving copious heapings of filet mignon and brie. “I mean, we’re still at a much greater risk of being hit by a cab.”
Socialite-caterer Serena Bass has a slightly more philosophical take. “None of my customers have said a thing,” she says. “People who can afford catering think they’re above getting mad-cow disease.”