I am sitting at the counter at Kihachi, watching Chef Kimura shred bright red blue fin tuna (not what is pictured above, that comes later) with a spoon. I've been watching him, brain tuned to "hum," for a few minutes before it occurs to me that he is shredding raw tuna with a spoon. I look up at him; "It's like a spare rib," he says, pointing to his own lower rib cage, "so tender, you just use a spoon." Chef is making chirashi. Bowls of simple sushi rice covered with torn pieces of nori, all topped with this raw blue fin tuna. That's the dish: three ingredients. It's hard to describe the beauty of the tuna - it's so red and glowing, it looks as though it's lit from within. It's truly jewel like. I realize that I'm on the verge of an epiphany.
The reason I have this extra time to spend with Chef is that, even though Husband and I left the house for the sole purpose of dining at Kihachi, we have somehow neglected to bring with us any form of payment. That's the danger in having a handbag fetish; too many handbag changes in a week and next thing you know, you've left your wallet in the pink one, sitting at home on the dining room table. This is a first for me. Just wanted to give you a chance to laugh at me. While Husband drives the 12 miles home at breakneck speed, I watch Chef Kimura cook and probe him to tell me his life story. I'll save that for another day, for the time being, I'm keeping it to myself. We're here today to talk about simplicity.
Frequently, I meet diners who are impressed only by the beauty on a plate, by the use of foams and emulsions, bizarre flavor combinations, and plates stacked lincoln log style 14 inches high. All of those things, I suppose, have a place, but the truth is, a good chef doesn't have to do any of this. First and foremost, the chef must have flawless taste, followed by exacting standards. He doesn't need to lay awake at night trying to think of a good way to get chocolate and anchovies to marry well. He needs really good sources, and a few sharp knives.
As a server, I grow weary of guests who drop names, telling me all the hottest new restaurants they've eaten in (in other cities, of course), I've had guests who have told me they are insulted that we have combined chocolate and raspberry in a dessert, because it's such a cliché. Some wise people might refer to it instead as a "classic." These classics have a place. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a restaurant in France which has been serving pressed ducks for 300 years.
A classic is something like marinara sauce - who knows who invented marinara sauce. It doesn't matter, and it never goes away because it makes sense. It's almost like a mathematical equation. Tomatoes and basil, lamb and rosemary, black eye peas and pork, sweet corn with butter and salt, hot dogs and mustard: they're classics because they make sense.
I could be totally wrong. I'm no chef. I'm not even a line cook. But I think it's time we take a break from trying to get to the next big thing. I just feel like it's time - especially as we enter the season of plenty - to take a look at the ingredient. I only just Saturday ate the best strawberry I have ever had in my life. It was so good, in fact, that I am keeping its source a secret out of pure selfishness. Do you hate me for that?
Chef Kimura pulls out a chunk of meat; a literal carcass. It's pink. Pork pink. At first, I'm not sure what it is. "I have a special treat for you," he says. "Oh! Otoro!" I say (fatty blue fin tuna belly). "The fish market, they sent this to me for free," Chef says, almost giddy. There's probably a reason he received this expensive and tasty gift, it might have something to do with his life in Japan, or the orders he has placed; whatever the reason, I am happy to be chosen to be the recipient of the karma. He cuts a few slices off, he admires it, and rolls it into some nori with a little rice, scallions and wasabi. He hands it to me, and it's one of the best things I've ever eaten. It's completely fatty, meltingly tender, indugent. It's perfection, dessert. It's the simple things, one highlighted ingredient, nothing new, nothing shocking, nothing that hasn't been done before, and yet, tasting it is like tasting otoro for the first time. It's that one simple, flawless ingredient. No foam, no wires, no stacking. Directly from Chef's hand to mine. Perfection: