When I was a child growing up in Japan, Iron Chef was one of my absolute favorite shows along side the cartoons. It aired late at night and it was something of an special occassion to stay up late and watch it. I didn't always get to watch it, despite my frequent requests - it was past my bed time.
Imagine my shock when I saw the familiar faces of my childhood on TV close to a decade later! In North Carolina of all places! I watched the show almost religiously from that moment, catching up on episodes I had never seen before or re-living my childhood, filled with images of sitting in a kotatsu with mikan-oranges in hand in the cold winter months of Japan. I could almost smell Japan from decades ago via the dishes, the senses, and the ambiance that permeated the show. Iron Chef was a slice of Japan, transporting me back to a comfortable and warm moment in my childhood.
I spent this past New Years Eve living my childhood dream of feasting on the Iron Chef's creations. It was just like the show for us with Iron Chef Japan, standing by our side, describing the dishes and even composing the last finishing touches himself for us. The dish he is preparing in this shot was definitely unique - a combination of flavors that neither is neither Japanese nor Western. A wooden pallet, like the ones used for uni, was filled with tuna tartare and served on ice with a variety of condiments. We each a wooden pallet and a tiny steel spatula (the same ones used for monjya yaki)- Chef Morimoto presented to us a tuna tartare bite with iwa-nori (wet seaweed), which was a unexpectedly delicious combination of savory umami and subtle sweetness.
We spoke at length earlier in the evening about how his restaurant hulls rice each day to provide the freshest grains. And how he loves the delicate acidity of red vingear so much that he had to have it imported. He jokingly asked me if I knew why he put a strawberry in the champagne toast when it was not in season - I replied that many Japanese think strawberry season is in the Winter because of the abundance of strawberry shortcases for Christmas eve - he smiled and whispered that it's just because he finally got all the permits to import these lusciously large treats from a farm in Japan.
In our conversation, I saw a glimpse of the energy that kept him going throughout those years as an Iron Chef. This was the same man who night after night, tirelessly challenged himself to cook the most creative dishes and to push his limits just a little bit further with each dish, infront of millions of viewers. He was no longer as trim or as charismatically dashing as I once thought he was, but I felt true passion for cooking. Despite his non-traditional combination of flavors, his cooking has deep roots that are nourished by the tradition, the ingredients, and the spirit of Japanese cuisine. I admit I was skeptical at first about a big restaurant that can seat over 100 people, but Morimoto is a big restaurant that works. I was pleasantly surprised by the execution of each dish. But then again, this is the man who used his kitchen staff as his own hands to create his signature flavors in less than an hour for a party of six in Kitchen Stadium for many years! I expect nothing less from him!
Few childhood heroes serve the test of inevitable let-down - hats off to Chef Morimoto for being exactly the chef I wanted to meet all these years!
Morimoto New York
88 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011
I do have to make a note that my brother-in-law complained that my dishes were better tasting than his and that he got the 'white-boy treatment' - even though we had ordered the exact same menu!