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Cooking with Chef Isao Yamada

Cooking with Chef Isao Yamada

Learn about the unforgettable experience of cooking with Chef Isao Yamada, a top-notch Japanese chef from Upstairs at Bouley Bakery, who spent five incredible hours teaching about Japanese cuisine in an apartment in Brooklyn. Stay tuned for upcoming posts where the author shares the valuable lessons learned.

Here was my grand idea: I wanted to invite a top-notch Japanese chef to come over to my apartment and cook with me. I've been fascinated by Japanese cooking for years, and have been studying the cuisine diligently, but I have lots of questions still begging for answers. Why not ask a great chef, while chopping veggies together at home? (As a billionaire I once met liked to repeat, almost like a tic, "nothing ventured, nothing gained.") So I put out the clarion call among my friends in the Japanese food community in New York (in journalism we call this process "smile and dial.") A mutual friend was kind enough to put me in touch with Chef Isao Yamada, who, to my incredibly good fortune, was game to work with me.

Chef Yamada cooks at Upstairs at Bouley Bakery, the brainchild of the exalted chef David Bouley: It's both a French-inspired restaurant and a Japanese one, under the same roof, each with its own open kitchen at either side of the room. (Chef Bouley has long been fascinated by Japanese cooking, and will open a Japanese restaurant called Brushstroke in Manhattan this summer.) Before arriving to America, Yamada-san trained at Kyoto Kitcho, one of Japan's most revered kaiseki restaurants, and other top places. He's also a native of Fukuoka, the capital of Japan's south, one of my favorite cities in the country, with its own particular brand of moxie, and unbelievably good food.

I met Yamada-san in person last month at a Japanese cuisine seminar. I liked him instantly. A warm, outgoing man with a big smile and an easy laugh, he told me he was excited to teach me more about Japanese cuisine so I could help Americans understand it better. My kind of guy. We made a plan to meet, and a week or so ago Yamada-san trekked over to visit me in my hamlet of Brooklyn (hamlet?) along with his friend, the journalist Yoshi Muto. Yamada-san entered my apartment, changed into a chef's coat, grabbed his knife and headed to my humble kitchen. We went to town for the next five hours. A remarkable, incredible, unbelievable five hours. In the next several posts, I'm going to try to explain as much as possible what I learned. Stay tuned.