Archive for the ‘Culinary Teaching’ Category


December 08, 2013: Sushi Class and Flamenco

December 8, 2013

Yoshio Teaches Sushi LCHCEarly this week, it was my honor and pleasure to once again don the uniform of a “Okonomy” sous-chef. “Okonomy” is Master Chef Yoshio Saito’s catering restaurant and is what this blog is named after. This week, it was to assist Chef Saito in teaching a sushi class at the Lowell Community Health Center in an effort to promote healthier options for diet. There were two classes scheduled with an expected 60 people per class, so we had our work cut out for us!

There is a saying in the East: “Give a man a fish, and he will stave off hunger for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will stave off hunger for a lifetime.” My experience with Yoshio and Okonomy, up to now, has been more of “giving of a fish” (literally and figuratively) to patrons. This time, it was a “teaching to fish” kind of affair. Okonomy was to provide all the materials ready to make temaki roll. This is sushi in a cone wrap of nori (seaweed sheets.) Yoshio would teach history, techniques and procedure to allow the health center administrators to learn the hows and whys of making sushi and then (best of all) teach them to make their own delicious combinations!

Considerable preparation was needed to buy, cut, package, and store all the separate elements of the temaki roll Yoshio was teaching. Those items were:

Nori Wraps             Toasted Sesame Seeds               Trefoil (or Beefsteak) leaves
Cucumber               Brown & White Sushi Rice         Shoyu (soy sauce)
Natto (fermented soybean)      Pickled Ginger         Daikon (Japanese Radish)
Fried Tofu Sheets          Scallions              Wasabi (Japanese Horseradish)
Imitation Crab             Avocado

Yoshios Sushi Rice

Brown Sushi Rice from Rice Cooker Photo: Y. Saito

Most troublesome to Chef Saito was the huge quantity of rice (we ended up with close to eighty pounds, between the white and brown) and most important, to keep such a huge quantity consistently warm until serving. Yoshio came up with  very clever technique of putting the rice batches in huge sealed bags and keeping them in a large thermos with hot water bottles. Yoshio flavored the rice with his special mixture of seasoning, stirring each batch under a fan to cool the rice to the proper temperature.

Chef Saito also made his home-made wasabi, which is much more hot (as well as more flavorful) than store-bought brands. [I observed more than one patron with watery eyes after applying just a tad too much!] Yoshio tempered such heat in the temaki rolls with the cool, bright, and tangy trefoil leaves, as well as the slightly sweet daikon and pickled ginger. He rounded out his temaki with the nutty toasted sesame seeds and salty shoyu.

The most delicious cucumber soup ever!

The most delicious cucumber soup ever! Photo: Y. Saito

Cooking with Yoshio is always such a positive experience in so many ways: not only is the work a lot of fun, but I learn so much every time just by being around a master and asking questions (which Yoshio is always pleased to answer.) It certainly helps to work for a master chef around break time. For dinner, he took the leavings from the cucumbers I was working on and whipped up a wonderful cucumber soup on the fly! He combined the cucumber with stock and milk and topped it of with white truffle oil, finely chopped trefoil, and crumbled feta cheese. I can honestly say it was one of the most spectacular soups I’ve ever had!

During an earlier break, Yoshio played a flamenco piece on his guitar (something I didn’t know he was training for) to perfection, but I was curious, “Why flamenco?” Actually, this style of playing from Southern Spain has more schools in Japan than Spain! It seems the flamenco style is hard on guitars and that guitar makers consider a flamenco guitar as “disposable!” After prepping was all done, Yoshio treated me to my favorite bourbon as we watched “Toast” which I was happy to find that Yoshio and his wife Dorcas liked as well as I.

Temaki by Mark; Photo: M.Raymond

Temaki by Mark; Photo: M.Raymond

As not as many people showed up as expected to both classes, Yoshio sent me home with a few leftovers. As I had lost a day at work, I thought it only fair to share the sushi fixings with those at work. The guys at work were making perfect tamaki rolls by their third go-around and we enjoyed a varied, healthy, tasty lunch, while taking pride in developing our make-it-yourself  skills!

Preparing Sushi; Photo: M.Raymond

Preparing Sushi; Photo: M.Raymond


August 26, 2013: Irish-American Cuisine at Showa

August 27, 2013

Showa 08.26.13Today was the third presentation of Irish-American food for Japanese students at the Showa Institute of Boston. Yoshio and I created a range of foods that show the assortment of influences on Irish-American cuisine.

I made a translation problem for Yoshio by spontaneously using the word “goofy” to describe St. Patrick’s Day celebration by Americans, compared to the Irish tradition of climbing Crough Patrick…barefoot, to honor the saint.

As in previous years, Yoshio made his wonderful Corned Beef and Cabbage. This year he omitted any additional salt and just let the corned beef  season the stew of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and onions. Tasting the veggies and broth, this was just perfect!

I made Irish Soda Bread and substituted craisins for the normal raisins for the New England touch. I also made Coddling Cream with Gala apples stewed in port. My Colcannon (mashed potatoes, leeks, and kale) was a little less smooth this year as my big mixer was broken, and was too tough for my hand mixer.

Some students surprised me by actually liking the taste of buttermilk that I usually have leftover from the soda bread recipe.

Our original recipes can be found here.


November 05, 2012: Cook’s Country on DVD

November 5, 2012

Sorry for such few posts lately, folks. Please be patient while I iron a few pesky inconveniences like how to pay for the mortgage, clothes, food…I have a number of posts already composed in my noggin. I just need to get some time away from job searching to flesh them out.

I continue to prospect through the river of knowledge with my pan of curiosity for the gold of experience at my favorite little library, the Hudson Public Library. This week’s gold is the entire “Cook’s Country” PBS cooking show on DVD.

For the best of American cooking, the magazine “Cook’s Illustrated” and its’ sister magazine, “Cook’s Country” (and now the TV show) hits the spot. These are classic American recipes tested and retested by “America’s Test Kitchen” (the name of the group that oversees the cooking and the media) to make them “bulletproof.” Both the magazines and the TV show work out all the ways a chef  can go wrong with these classic recipes and guide the viewer to ways of perfecting them. They also test out modern tools and gadgets and recommend their top choices. They do the same with store-bought, popular foods. Best of all, they frequently show you how to take care of your kitchen tools to make them last and functioning top-notch.

Christopher Kimball founded “Cook’s” magazine in 1980 and was publisher and editor until 1989 when the magazine was relaunched as “Cook’s Country.” I was surprised (and pleased) to discover that Christopher is a Boston native and that America’s Test kitchen is located in Brookline!

For years I subscribed to various cooking magazines and finally settled on “Cook’s Illustrated” as the perfect one for me. There is nothing flashy about “Cook’s Illustrated.” A well-composed color illustration for the front, color photographs of the recipes inside the back cover and just clean, black and white illustrations for the inside to accompany the articles.

The PBS-TV show has a little bit more by way of presentation, while holding back on the flash. It comes close to the Julia Child show, minus Julia’s charming goofyness. “Cook’s Country” does radiate a warmth as Christopher graciously takes a back seat as tester, taster, and sometimes target for his charming, affable, and clearly knowledgeable staff. Viewers are taken through the recipes step-by-step, with the staff pointing out where they went wrong in their tests and most importantly why these trials went wrong. I believe I learned more watching just the first season of “Cook’s Country” than I did working an entire year and half at a bona-fide French restaurant!

I won’t deny that I sometimes like to go a bit fancy on some dishes. I do like to spoil my guests, when ever possible, with the visual and the complicated. Fancy I can dream up on my own, but for practical, solid solutions to good recipes of America’s favorite dishes, nothing beats “Cook’s Country” and “Cook’s Illustrated!”


September 17, 2012: “Toast” (2010)

September 17, 2012

I take it for granted that most of the movies in the DVD collection at the library have been found to have some flaw by the people who donated them. Probably the most common reason for donating them is to make room for the new DVD purchases. Still, these movies must have been found lacking in some way, by the donators. So, I play this game that I call “find the flaw” as I view them.

I was thrilled to find a new-ish “indie-foodie” (my most favorite category of cinema) in the library’s collection called “Toast” (2010) by director S.J. Clarkson, a biography about early life of British food writer Nigel Slater.

Poor Nigel has a rough childhood. He has an inherit sensitivity to, and desire for, fine food, but is condemned to have a mother (although very sweet and caring) that has absolutely no clue how to prepare even the most simple dish. His voice over, states what every child knows, “When you are deprived of something, it just makes you all the more hungry for it.” It doesn’t help that his father has a very surly nature, “Not a sweet man, despite a very sweet tooth.” Mr. Slater is clearly not getting much sugar (both literal and metaphoric) from his wife, probably exacerbating his surliness. With Nigel’s pleading, his mother tries to make the dishes he craves, usually with disastrous results. Her default dish after these failures is toast, which oddly, despite its simplicity, Nigel finds satisfying, “No matter how bad things get, it’s hard not to love someone who has made you toast.” Nigel pleads with his mom to teach him to make mince-pie for Christmas, but she is ill and it is a race against time…a race that ultimately is lost.

Enter Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter) first as a cleaner but who slowly wins over the father with her very good cooking skills, earthiness and attractiveness. Dad finally has all the sugar he wants, but Nigel finds her “common” and can’t stand her. He can’t help but admit that she is a superior chef, but that just starts a rivalry between the two over the father’s affections with food as the weapon selected by the duelists.

I loved the setup of “Toast” as period piece about food and personalities and it certainly has some very fine moments. I loved the “tossing the mom’s sandwich” scene (something I have been guilty of, with my mom’s sandwiches.) The “grade school milk line” and the “food-porn” scenes I found to be just hilarious! “Toast” has a few very well-rounded and interesting side characters. I liked Nigel’s advising childhood friend and the young gardener Josh, who both sets the tone of the value of a life well-spent and explains the love of a garden in way that I have never heard before. The big surprise in acting came from child actor Oscar Kennedy as the young Nigel. In contrast, Freddie Highmore, himself having been a very good child actor, phones in his performance as the teen-age Nigel. Helena Bonham Carter does a superb job playing an unlikeable character (or is she…truly unlikable?) After viewing…feel free to talk amidst yourselves.

I found “Toast” to be very frustrating in one aspect. My group of friends’ nickname for this kind of film is an “effin-pint-o’-stiffy” after one of us saw “Trainspotting” a number of years ago. Our friend said that because of the accents, those were the only words she could make out in the entire film! I question any filmmaker, these days, not including subtitles! I want to catch every nuance of the spoken word of a film. A film with rich accents and period or colloquial words needs to be subtitled!

Where “Toast” absolutely shines is its use of the idea of food creation as expression of ones soul. Even amongst the characters that don’t have the skill to express themselves this way, somehow give meaning to this…and those that have it to the extreme, do not always choose to express their soul in the right way.

“Toast” also influenced me in a way that I never expected…but that is for another day…another article.


September 05, 2012: Irish-American Cuisine at the Showa Institute

September 5, 2012

Thanks to the Showa Institute, Yoshio and the students of Showa for having me once again for a talk on Irish-American cuisine, yesterday. Yoshio and I treated the Japanese students to some Irish-American recipes of Corned Beef and Cabbage; Soda Bread; Codling Cream; and Colcannon. Yoshio also presented them to a few American oddities such as buttermilk, peanut butter and jelly and Fluffernutter sandwiches.

I, in return, got a few examples of Japanese “power food” such as a kale drink and dried umeboshi (salted and pickled plum) which was quite delicious!  Thanks to everyone at Showa for a wonderful day!


July 18, 2012: “The Banzai Chef” by Dave Barry

July 18, 2012

Just read this chapter from “Dave Barry Is Not Taking This Sitting Down” and I thought I would share. This is courtesy of Dave’s official website and the chapter is called “The Banzai Chef” Very funny, in Dave Barry-style humor. Yes Dave, making sushi is much harder than it looks!

I also enjoyed his book “Dave Barry Does Japan” which is Dave trying to reach across the gulf between cultures and landing in a strange place of his own, somewhere in the middle!

When I read Dave’s stuff, I always think “How cool would it be, to have Dave over at a cookout?!”

Dave, the invitation is always there, but (from one West-trying to meet-East guy to another) I ask one concession: I will serve at least one WOO recipe. Your choice, and that way there will be no “prank food,” I promise. I think there is yet hope for you and Japanese cuisine!


December 22, 2011: Christmas Bark

December 22, 2011

This is a treat I used to make my students at Christmas. I used to put pieces of Christmas Bark in small plastic bags with a Christmas quote of some sort attached to the tie sealing the bag. Then I put the whole bag into a Christmas coffee mug. I used to enjoy this making Christmas Bark and I do miss the tradition. It’s pretty easy to make and has generated a lot of fans over the years.

Christmas Bark:  Toast @ 325°F 1C. whole Pecans and 2C. whole Walnuts on a cookie sheet covered in parchment for about 20 minutes, turning often. Cool and coarsely chop. Also chop 1C. Craisings (or you could substitute Dried Cherries.) On a double-boiler, over medium heat, melt 7C. semi-sweet chocolate chips. When chocolate is melted, add nuts and craisins and stir until both are coated with chocolate. On a 10″ X 15″cookie sheet, covered with parchment, pour the chocolate mixture and use spoon to level. Cool at room temperature and then further cool in fridge. Chocolate will harden in about 30 minutes. Break, by hands (covered with rubber gloves to keep both you and the chocolate clean, but also to insulate the chocolate from your hands’ warmth) into chunks and bag. Use the tines of a fork to break the tougher pieces. Keep all pieces that you are not working on breaking, in the fridge, as your hands will start to melt the chocolate if it is at room temperature.

Simple. Tasty. Quickly made. An original Christmas treat!

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