The man behind The Maine and Barbary has achieved success with unlikely concepts in unlikely locations. And he’s ready to open two new restaurants in 2019
Debonair steps into the kitchen with the legendary Iron Chef as he heads this way for Taste of Dubai
What’s your earliest food memory?
In our family, going out for sushi was a very special occasion. We didn’t have a lot of money to do this often, but once a month or so we would, and as a kid I remember being amazed with the sushi chefs and the entire dining experience. Growing up, I wanted to be either a professional baseball player or a sushi chef. When I injured my shoulder early on in my career, I turned to sushi.
How did you enter the industry?
I trained in the art of being a sushi chef, which is a very important position in Japanese culture. During the training, you don’t even get to work with fish for many years. First, you have to know how to prepare the rice perfectly, before graduating to working with fish.
Professional kitchens are renowned as stressful environments. How do you handle the pressure?
I take my job as a restaurateur and chef very seriously, as do those who work for me. We are providing nourishment to people who have made the decision to spend their money at one of my restaurants. To provide a great experience each time is stressful, but to handle that we have to remember that we are putting love into the food we make; that keeps me balanced.
How often do you cook outside the workplace?
Never! My wife does all the cooking at home in New York. However, when I am in Japan or Hawaii, I like to go to convenience stores and cook very simple dishes for myself.
What’s the best restaurant you’ve eaten at and what made it memorable?
Rakucho in Hiroshima, Japan — they have the best okonomiyaki. When my wife and I were newly married, we had a restaurant in Hiroshima, and we would go to Rakucho after our service. It was the only restaurant we would look forward to going to after a long day.
Conversely, what would you never eat again?
All of the ingredients that made me lose during Iron Chef competitions! Just kidding. I really can’t think of anything that I’d never eat again.
Does a man who cooks win brownie points at home?
I’m not really sure, because my wife is the chef in our home kitchen and she does a great job! But I do think everyone should be able to cook a few simple meals, which is why I wrote my last book, Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking.
What’s your top life hack for the layman in the kitchen?
Use the best ingredients you can afford and try to prefect a few simple dishes that you can really master. Let the components of each dish really shine on their own.
What’s your one indispensable kitchen implement?
My sushi knife!
What new trends are you seeing?
I have never followed trends throughout my career. I have a philosophy that whatever you cook needs to taste good first and foremost. We source as locally as we can for all my restaurants and do so with the community and culture of where we are in mind. Cook from the heart and respect the ingredients you use.
Who’d you invite to your ideal dinner table?
If I cook, then I would like to invite my wife as she does all the cooking at home. If I don’t cook, I would like to invite everybody — it would be great to hold the Guinness World Record for the most people eating the same food at the same time. Otherwise Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, as they’re retiring this year.
If you could choose your final meal, what would it be?
It would be a meal that I cook myself. I would choose Koshihikari rice from Uonuma, Niigata, and select the grains individually so that they’re all similar size, which allows the rice to cook evenly. I would also make a miso soup using dashi made from scratch and homemade miso that I’d start from fermentation. It will be accompanied with pickled vegetables made in my nukadoko (fermented rice bran bed) and akami tuna sashimi with three-year-old fresh wasabi from Shizuoka.
Taste of Dubai takes place between March 7-9 at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre
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