Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Morimoto yelled at me :)

We had the great chance to work with Masuharu Morimoto today. I think most people only know him from his Iron Chef fame in the US, but he's a restaurateur and has a lot of knowledge of other cuisines, including Chinese and American. We were definitely all nervous and excited abut the day, but I think most of us were worried out skills hadn't come far enough along yet.

And because we weren't particularly confident about our skills yet and we sad an unfamiliar menu, we started early today to try and get a few things done before Morimoto arrived. A few people started on the egg custard, while a few others began blanching vegetables for the salad. The fish, tuna and salmon, were mostly still frozen and needed defrosting before we could cut them (and we probably were all too afraid to cut fish without Morimoto first). When I arrived, I floated around and just tried to work wherever someone was needed and ended up landing on the white miso dressing for the bamboo salad.

Kevin and I weren't sure if the white miso he had was the right kind, so there were a few moments lost to researching the different options we had. We didn't want to presume the miso would be the right type, I think we were all a little afraid of seeming to disrespect the chef's recipes or ingredients. We were all nervous what his temperament would be.

After a quick online search, we decided to go ahead because I needed to whisk the miso and egg mixture together over a double boiler and because there was so much, it would need to be done in several batches for nearly an hour. Thankfully, I roped Mike into helping me out (and doing a lot of the whisking) otherwise I probably wouldn't have made it all quickly enough. In the end we had to whisk the very thick mixture for nearly 45 minutes.

Just as we'd finished, Morimoto arrived to check on what was going on. I think that if we'd waited until 1pm to come into class today, we never would have been able to finish all of the dishes on time. Unfortunately, all the work we'd put into the miso dressing was for nothing. In the end, chef said that the white miso we were using wasn't quite right. It was too dark and too salty, making the dressing far too intense for the salad. Chef decided to call a friend (who owns a sushi restaurant in MA) of his to bring us in the correct type of white miso. Until his friend arrived, Mike and I were tasked with slicing bamboo shoots in half for the salad because we needed a very specific number of shoots per serving (about 4 per person, nearly 100 people).

Morimoto also started to demonstrate how to slice salmon for sushi. It was amazing to see in person. It was clear that he had a lot of respect for the food and the art of traditional Japanese techniques because of the way he moved the fish, handled his knife and applied the blade to the meat. It made me think it was almost ritualistic sacrifice, trying to do as little harm as possible to the fish, because it would be wrong to waste any of it.

He made it look so easy, slicing the perfect portions with his knife gliding through the fish. So when he let us try, we were all very nervous. A few of us started off blaming our French chefs knives being the problem, but I think we all know we just weren't anywhere near his knife technique level. His knife was much longer than ours, and had a thinner blade, I think. He did offer to let us use his knife, but there was a rumor that his knife was well over a thousand dollars making us all very reluctant to touch it at all. Could you imagine being the one that dropped it? Ugh, my stomach is in knots at the thought of it.

We needed to slice tuna and salmon for two different dishes: tuna pizza and sugared salmon. The tuna pizza took little prep time, so we focused mostly on slicing the salmon correctly and beginning the process of making the salmon a dessert item. Mike and I laid out the sliced salmon and sprinkled a good amount of salt over the sheet trays, after five minutes, we were supposed to wash off the salt and dry the salmon. Well, I was trying to be delicate because (1) I didn't want him to think I was just throwing food around and (2) some of the slices weren't holding up very well because they were slices made from the class practicing their techniques. Anyway, when he came back after doing a quick demo of how to slice tuna, he saw that some sheet trays had not yet been rinsed and yelled at me for my slow pace. A little unnerving, but it makes for a far more interesting experience with him!

After the salmon was dried, we placed them all into hotel pans and soaked them in cognac for another five minutes. Drying 100+ slices of salmon quickly when they're falling apart is hard to do, and Morimoto pushed us to move faster, because some pieces will have sat in the cognac for longer than others. Amazingly though, he actually said, "Oh, well, maybe I was wrong and should have waited for the salmon to be in the pan before I poured the cognac." Mike and I couldn't believe that he would reconsider his own movements and suggest that he hadn't thought it through either. I really respected him for that, because most chefs would never think themselves as less than perfect. I don't think he was wrong, but it was very cool to see him think about different ways to approach a situation - no wonder he's good on Iron Chef.

Because he was doing two demos today, I was able to watch the first one and help plate for the second one. He was actually quite dynamic to watch in performance mode, although he definitely is a focused cook because there were times during the demo he would forget to talk and the room just sat watching (not at all a bad thing, really). At one point he used his knife to peel an entire daikon into one long, very wide, strip. It was amazing. Once it was cut, he rolled it back up and sliced them into strips that genuinely looked life fettuccine (which he then used to make the daikon fettuccine pasta).

I really enjoyed learning more about his childhood and path to becoming a chef, I'd never heard anything about his early life and only really knew about his time at Nobu in NYC before starting his own restaurant, Morimoto, in Philadelphia. His personality really came across though, he seemed pretty humble but knew that he had a great talent for cooking. He was very funny and made some cracks about himself, but talked really honestly and candidly about his rather unpleasant childhood.

Over all them menu we served was pretty interesting. I didn't love the bamboo salad (despite putting so much elbow grease into the dressing) but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. It was funny because a lot of people couldn't figure out what was in it. I really enjoyed the tuna pizza, with the grilled tortillas slathered in BBQ eel sauce, covered with slices of tuna and vegetables and finished with some mayonaise. I'd have a hard time saying it was really Japanese food though. I sorta liked the egg custard with shrimp (or maybe fish?) paste. It didn't taste bad, per se, but I wasn't expecting it to be sweet, so I was a little thrown by the flavor when I ate it at first. I think if I ate it hot and with a little rice or soy sauce, I'd like it more.

The worst was the salmon. Just absolutely awful. The traditionally oily feeling on a piece of fish had been taken away by the salt and cognac, making the outside look and feel a little like salmon jerky, even though the inside still tasted like raw salmon. The last step of the salmon sugar (which I missed because I had been watching the demo) was to bury the salmon in sugar seasoned with cloves and star anise. It tasted like oily, boozy, salmon jerky. Blech.

I think a lot of the crowd was disappointed we didn't make the daikon fettuccine because they all wanted to try it. I have to say, I was a little disappointed myself. It seemed to be the only dish that I would realistically try at home. Everything else seemed a little complicated or expensive (tuna in particular). But I did hear, and I completely agree with them, that it was just such a special treat just to watch him cook in person. The way he moved around, used his knife and cooked was so graceful, measured and elegant and really made me think that the Japanese have really understood the concept of making food and cooking a true art form.

This class has already changed the way I function in life, I'm increasingly efficient and mindful of my action. Conservation of movement and actions. Maybe at some point I'll move into elegance of actions too.


Anonymous said...

Was this the morimoto demo@BU in Boston?

Lilly said...

Yes it was, it was a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

I was there in the front row during the first session busy taking notes!

Sorry to hear about the miso dressing.

I've been cooking out of morimoto's cookbook since it came out. I have yet to do the salmon sashimi dessert.
I must agree the salmon dessert wasn't what I expected... it's something I'll put on my to do list.

Let's see, here's what I've done from his book:

* steak with soy garlic jus
* buri bop
* sushi rice risotto
* iron chef ramen soup
(sourcing that white soy sauce
was a royal pain. the
now-defunct kotobukiya had some
and I bought the entire batch.
Now I only have two bottles left)
* lobster soup (I don't have the
presentation equipment but it
came out pretty well ... I took
a few short cuts in that one -
the shan tang stock he uses+the
ginger is basically the original
chinese shantang stock (chicken,
jinhua (in this case smithfield)
ham, ginger, scallions)
* ayu rice, and in this case, I
substituted in red snapper. I
would *LOVE* to get my hands on
some ayu - I've had it before
at Matsuhisa in LA (whole, deep

I still want to do his mashed potato soup that's in his book that he did on Iron Chef Japan (Battle Potato).