Although my next Los Angeles restaurant will be Comme Ça, a Parisian-style brasserie, I am also in the process of developing Sokyo, a Japanese restaurant. At Sokyo, the food will be prepared and served kappo style—that is, elegant small dishes prepared by cooks on one side of a counter and served to patrons on the other side, similar to a sushi counter or a high-end tapas bar. In the name of research, I somewhat recently headed to Japan to absorb the intricacies of the cuisine and to develop contacts abroad.
I went with my sous chef, Kuniko Yagi. We spent a week in Kyoto, eating at small restaurants and meeting chefs committed to their regions and traditions. We dined at So-jiki nakahigashi, a traditional kappo restaurant. The chef is so obsessed with freshness that he goes to a mountain each morning to handpick greens for the evening’s omakase (chef’s choice) menu! In between meals, I spent time visiting Japanese monasteries. They showed me a quiet, focused intensity that mirrored the kind of concentration I try to bring into the kitchen. It was a peaceful and rich experience that has translated to my cooking and my approach to leading a team.
We moved on to Tokyo to visit the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, where we had some of our most memorable meals. We ate at Sushi Dai, right inside the market, two days in a row. The space is tiny—about 12 seats crowded around a narrow sushi bar—but thanks to its reputation for incomparably fresh products, the restaurant is crowded by 5 AM. Diners are not given soy sauce, pickled ginger or wasabi, because each piece of fish is already perfectly seasoned. It's really an instance of true masters doing their art while you watch—and then having that piece of art handed over for you to eat. At another restaurant, called Shunjyu, we sampled small plates featuring homemade tofu, fresh produce from throughout Japan and an extensive sake menu. My experiences in Tokyo influenced not only the development of my nascent Japanese concept, but came to resonate throughout Sona when I returned.
I’m planning another trip to Japan, this time with Saori Kawano, who is the owner of Korin Knife Company (and a dear friend). This time, I hope to recruit some Japanese cooks to Los Angeles, to help us develop a higher level of authenticity at Sona and, eventually, Sokyo. I want to explore Japanese-Italian crudo restaurants, and yakitori restaurants that specialize in cooking an entire bird. I want to see monks cooking vegetarian meals, visit Michel Bras in Hokkaido, and discover new ingredients and flavors. It’s all in the name of elevating the dining experience and growing as a chef. Japan feels like a second home for me, one in which I become centered again.
Maynard James Keenan — page Springs, az — January 21, 2007 6:03pm ET
Steve Rodriguez — Toluca Lake, Ca. — January 30, 2007 12:17am ET
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