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Notes from Tokyo Taste

Notes from Tokyo Taste

Highlights from Chef Kunio Tokuoka's presentation at the Tokyo Taste event in Japan, including the use of kombu dashi to enhance umami, poaching vegetables in kombu dashi with butter, deconstructing and reassembling a fish fillet, preparing risotto in a hot pot donabe, and creating tableside service with tomatoes and parmesan.

Hollywood has its paparazzi. So, apparently, does food. I took the shot above at last week's Tokyo Taste event in Japan, where a ruck of photographers rushed to snap dishes prepared by famous chefs. What a sight.

But there was more to the event than just pretty plates of food. Among the guests was Kunio Tokuoka of the famed Kyoto Kitcho, a renown and supremely talented chef. I want to share some highlights from his fascinating presentation:

Chef Tokuoka prepared a simple kombu dashi (kombu + water) in which he poached a piece of chicken. Once the chicken cooked through he removed it and added literally a pinch of salt and just a couple of drops of soy sauce -- I was actually wondering why so little when I watched him do it. The effect, though, was profound. I got to taste this dashi and was amazed by how incredibly savory and delicious it was. And so simple. That tiny bit of sodium really popped the umami (I'm sure the kombu was first-rate, too, of course). Something to keep in mind when you work with dashi.

Chef Tokuoka added a little butter to a kombu dashi and used the liquid to poach root vegetables like carrots and daikon. I didn't get to taste the results but I'm going to try this at home. The idea of vegetables infused with umami (the kombu) and a touch of richness (the butter) sounds very appealing, especially if you pop it with a few grains of salt.

During his presentation, Chef Tokuoka prepared a fillet of fish, but he deconstructed it: He grilled the skin crisp, poached the flesh tender and fried the scales crunchy. Then he reassembled the fillet on a plate - what an interesting play of textures and flavors, each element of the fish prepared with the perfect technique to bring out its singular qualities.

At one point, the chef preheated a dry Japanese clay hot pot (donabe) in the oven. He then drizzled in a little olive oil and added cooked rice and aromatic ingredients, preparing his take on risotto. I like the idea of mixing rice with aromatics in a hot donabe tableside, the sounds and smells would be really seductive. I'm going to experiment with this idea.

Finally, Chef Tokuoka slowly cooked down tomatoes into a sauce and spooned it on a plate. He then placed a pre-heated stone in the center of the tomato sauce and sprinkled parmesan shavings on the stone. The cheese of course melted and released its incredible fragrance. Another really interesting idea for tableside service. Maybe other kinds of aromatic ingredients roasting on the stone?