February 22, 2010: Meeting with (Chef) Yoshio

March 3, 2010

I know this is going to be confusing, at some point, so I will try to explain as best as I can: I will sometimes refer to Okonomy’s Chef Yoshio Saito as just that “Chef Saito” and sometimes just “Yoshio”. With Yoshio being a complex man and with my having a diverse and rich history with the man, he’s hard to categorize: is he a friend? A mentor? An artist? My boss? Teacher? Fellow chef? Well, the truth is that Yoshio is ALL of these things (except he is far above my skills in the latter!) So, when I refer to him as “Yoshio” I guess that is the friend, that i am referring to, who has influenced and guided me for so many years, as only a friend can do. For the rest, he’s “Chef Saito”!

We got together on the 22nd to get a few of his Okonomiyaki dishes photographed. I will post these presently, but as always, time with Yoshio (AND Chef Saito) is always so much more than merely “time spent”, I felt compelled to have a separate entry.

It was great that in-between my photo activities, I got to watch Chef Saito in action making the assorted Okonomiyaki dishes. I’ve heard a lot from Chef Saito on the making of Okonomiyaki, but have never seen it. I can only hope that the photos capture his care and craft as he assembled each one in delicious layers of assorted seafood, vegetables, with that unique Japanese crepe and sauce! I don’t think that the whole process will truly sink in until I am able to watch him make these, step-by-step. Someday, when there aren’t photos to take, but I feel that we only captured a few of the hundreds of variations of Okonomiyaki!

Even with all the work to do, Yoshio finds time for the things that are equally important.  First, he never fails to feed me very, very well!!! He made me a vegetarian “instant” curry that was the most sublime dish ever. When Yoshio said “instant”, I was picturing something from a box. Not so…the curry was a perfect blend of stock, coconut milk, and spices that rode a perfect limen between hot enough and too hot. Hot enough to excite the taste buds, yet mellow enough for the creamy coconut and the slightly musty Shiitake mushroom to be sensed. Served with his delicious rice, he was clever to put small sections of mandarin orange around the dish, which made it, not only decorative, but were also there to help cool you when the heat built up a little too much.

Also, with Yoshio there’s the discussion of food that is so enlightening! I learned that he comes from a family of gourmands. He told me stories of how his dad would take him out, when he was young, and instruct him on the best of foods. His sister is a French chef, trained in the Cordon Bleu style and he recalled when he was in the fifth grade, her teaching him to make curry (I bet it wasn’t “instant” then either!) I found that we had a lot in common, as my first foray in the culinary world happened in fifth grade also, when I skipped school, for the first and only time, to make Shrimp Newberg, trying to duplicate what I saw MY sister (another awesome cook) make that week!

A night of fine food, photography, good company, watching an artist create this unique line of foods, so foreign to me, but so interesting! I fell asleep that night, quite happy, appropriately enough, to a line from the “Hagakure” (The Book of the Samurai)

“Money is a thing that will be there when asked for. A good man is not so easily found”

I’m not so sure about the money thing, but Yoshio, Chef Saito…by any name…a good man indeed.


One comment

  1. The first time I tasted okonomiyaki was in the kitchen of a college dorm. One might shudder at the thought of this but it tasted DELICIOUS! And it was made by Chef Yoshio’s daughter, Emily. So my thanks go out to him for exposing me to one of my favorite Japanese treats. Our okonomiyaki was enormous and slathered with the great sauce that we had sought out at a local asian food market. I can still remember eating it almost straight out of the pan, probably on borrowed dishes. I’ve only had it about two or three times since college, from a hole in the wall take out place in lower manhattan and a great little restaurant off Times Square, and I still love it. My friends and I call it “Japanese pizza”.

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