Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Somehow I've gotten lucky enough to be selected as the media person that accompanies several well-known San Francisco chefs on a food tour of Miyagi prefecture, Japan.

I'm getting paid to travel to Japan for a week, eat a few bites of perfectly formed; perfectly presented Japanese food over several long meals, and write about it. I'm writing this blog post from my hotel room, where there's a nightie provided, in Sendai City. 

Sendai City is the capital of Miyagi prefecture. Sho-san, the executive chef of Yoshi's in San Francisco, recommended me as the media person to accompany this tour of Japan, a trip meant to introduce regional Japanese ingredients to people who matter; a.ka. San Francisco chefs, and I'm here to record the experience.

Here's who's on the trip:
Shotaro "Sho" Kamio, executive chef of Yoshi's in San Francisco and Oakland.

Ravi Kapur of Boulevard, a friendly acquaintance of mine since a few years back

Bruce Hill of Bix and Picco, and one of the calmest, kindest souls I've met in the food industry. He's been my go-
to for what to expect and how to act in Japan since I met him last week at a sake tasting.

Paul Canales of Oliveto; one crazy mo-fo who is always wearing a beret and always down for any kind of adventure. I've known Paul for three days and I already would trust him with my first-born.

Staffan Terje of Perbacco, a fellow northern European, with whom I can discuss rigid social customs and love of raw fish with; with no fear of judgement. He's also the only person on this trip who's taller than I am.

There are also some culinary school instructor-chefs, who I have not yet gotten to know as well as I should have as, I've been busy gossiping and eavesdropping on the SF chefs. Scott Saunder and Lars are representing Greystone in Napa (where I just spent an amazing week at the wine writers' symposium, and Damon is a chef-instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco.

Dinner at Sho's family’s restaurant last night was one of the most amazing I’ve ever eaten. It was all served family style, with were huge steaming hot-pots on the table (long enough to accommodate about 25 diners, we only filled up about half the spaces, the other half which were filled by a rotating cast of Sho’s friends and family that stopped by here and there).

The menu, copied from my Moleskine pocket notebook (Chef Hill asked me "How many of those do you use a month? Because it looks like you're BLOWING through that one"):

Sea pineapple, a “sea squirt” only found in Miyagi. It is kind of like a big, orange oyster that is extra slimy and tastes like cucumber. They grow whole on rocks, two meters down. There are two polyps on top and to cut it open, you stab a knife first in the polyp with the + sign, then the one with the - sign.

Mackerel sashimi. The best I’ve ever had. 

Pickled pig ears with kim chee.

Skewers of beef and beef tendon with hot mustard. They were boiling in a big square metal pan 

that was connected to a gas outlet. Delicious!

Pickled pig skin in strips with grated daikon. The daikon here is not spicy, it's fresh and grated.

The textures were what really wowed all of us. In the same dish, there was chewy, slimy, crunchy, and every flavor delicious.

There were whole cabbage leaves cooked in hot-pots. There were four different kinds of
 hot-pots that started out with raw ingredients and were cooked by the time our second courses arrived on the table...unfortunately I was only able to taste two as my stomach is not as big as I wish it was.

All the food is local, and the ingredients are surprisingly similar to what we find in San Francisco (Sendai City is actually on the same latitude).

The food kept coming and coming. Luckily I've been in the business long enough to only swallow what really appeals to me...unfortunately everything appealed to me last and I already have a stomacheache from eating too much.

Here comes a chicken wing.

The crowning glory of the evening was the two platters of horse sashimi that were brought out as our last course. Tenderloin, vein, ice-cold liver, and the neck fat from right underneath the mane were on the plate.

The pure flavors, the richness, the textures...the food here is almost overwhelming, but not quite. It's deeply satisyfing. I din't know if I could have been this open to strange foods if I wasn't already a 'food person.' I mean, pickled strips of pig ears and pig skin? tripe? weird chewy things that I have no idea what they are but am pretty sure they come from the inside of a pig? I've only been in Japan for three hours and I'm already obsessed.


Rachel san said...

I'm so glad YOU were chosen for this job. Your open mind is an inspiration to us all!

Rafael C said...

Come better back! I am happy to hear your taste buds are getting a hard core work out. I wish I was there to taste all the new and refreshing foods that Japan has to offer. Can't wait to hear whatelse Japan has instore for you!

Alex said...

Clean, singular flavors and crazy textural contrasts are what I love about Japanese food. You're bound to have an amazing time! Keep us posted.

greenjeans said...

I'm so jealous. Green even.

gastronomichael said...

Ella: It was nice to meet you last night at the Tohoku fund raising dinner at Prospect. As you can see I was able to find your blog posts from your Sendai trip with the group of chefs. A very worthwhile event last night. Thanks for your help with arranging it.