When I was younger, my parents loved to tune in to PBS to watch Japanese talk shows and cooking shows. They attended Japanese school in primary school years and used their Japanese to communicate with their bachan (grandmother) and jichan (grandfather). When the regular school day ended, Japanese school began. Not only did they have homework from public school, but they also had homework from Japanese school. Since I was lucky to be third generation and we moved to California from Hawaii, there were no Japanese schools nearby for me to attend. My parents always told my brother and me that we had it easy. Long story short, I ended up learning only a little from what my parents would say at home, which was mainly food items. But any youngster from a Japanese family will know this word, “Yakamashi!”
One particular show caught our attention. It was called “Iron Chef”. Chairman Kaga would enter the grand stage with his elaborate outfits. Sometimes, I thought he might have borrowed clothes from Elton John. Luckily, these shows were subtitled so we could read and pick out the Japanese words we knew. When Iron Chef Rokusaburo Michiba retired, a young chef named Masaharu Morimoto took his place. Always, described the by the kitchen commentators as “bringing his USA game” to the kitchen. The American influence became quite apparent due to his experience in New York City under celebrated Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. His dishes were very different from the traditional Japanese, French, and Chinese dishes that were presented in Kitchen Stadium. In 2011, I had the opportunity to dine at Morimoto in Philadelphia and the experience still brings back fond memories. At last year’s Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival, I had the honor of meeting Chef Morimoto-san while he served up Hamachi Tacos, my favorite dish of the event. I swear, he looks like he could be my dad’s brother.
At this year’s Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival, Chef Morimoto-san lead a cooking demonstration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The guests were greeted with wine tasting and an opportunity to purchase Morimoto: the New Art of Japanese Cooking cookbook. Fans from all across the Southland, came to watch and learn. Morimoto-san started the cooking demo off with how to cook rice. With his low key Japanese humor, he says after his assistant put the rice and water in the cooker, “People ask me how to cook sushi rice. Just press the button.” The demo started with the audience laughing and now it was down to business on how to fillet fish for sashimi. He demonstrated how to cut the fillet from the bone and then cut the skin off. The end result was a beautiful fillet ready for slicing. He also made a hamachi sashimi sample for the audience to try with hot sesame oil so it just barely sizzled the fish. The sweetness of the fish was retained and soft as butter. He also demonstrated how to make sushi rice by cooling the rice in a hangiri, folding the rice with the grain of the wood to avoid mashing the rice grains. The addition of the rice vinegar is done while fanning the rice, for a nice sheen and flavor. At the end of the demo, Morimoto had a Q&A where the audience could ask him anything. One audience member asked, “Where do you live now?” Chef Morimoto-san answered, “On airplanes and in hotel rooms.” He does travel a lot with his restaurant empire that stretches the globe from the US (Boca Raton, Napa, Philadelphia, Chicago, Waikiki, Wailea, NYC) to Mexico (Mexico City) to India (New Delhi, Mumbai). If you are a fan of Hawaii Five-O, Chef Morimoto-san made a cameo appearance showing off his karaoke skills singing “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, filmed on location at Morimoto Waikiki.
As always, I am always honored to meet and be in the presence of this amazing chef. Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita, Morimoto-san !
Chef Masaharu Morimoto
Find a restaurant near you
Purchase your copy of Morimoto: the New Art of Japanese Cooking cookbook
For more information and make plans for next year:
Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival