Park Hyatt Tokyo Kozue’s Tohoku Heroes

Hatsumago Sparkling

Hatsumago Sparkling

Kozue at the Park Hyatt Tokyo is a lovely spot for Japanese cuisine. At lunch if the skies are clear you have a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji. At night the city twinkles below you.

Two years ago Kozue did a special Tohoku menu to show their support for three prefectures that were hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami, Fukshima, Miyagi, and Iwate. This year Kozue is repeating the Tohoku Heroes menu, but moving on to the other three prefectures, Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata.

Chef Kenichiro Ooe is from Yamagata, as is my family, so we share this connection with Tohoku. At a recent dinner at Kozue chef Ooe introduced many products and sake from Tohoku.

Koji Nishizaki, the manager of Kozue, gave lovely commentary on the sake with each course. We started the evening off with a sparkling sake from Hatsumago. Hatsumago is a lovely brewery from Sakata in Yamagata. I sold many bottles of Hatsumago when I worked at Takashimaya. It means the first grandchild. A lovely gift for new grandparents. It is only 10% in alcohol, so light on the palate and refreshing. A great start to any evening.

Hiraizumi

Hiraizumi Marubi 15, Yamahai Junmai, Akita Miyama-nishiki rice. The yeast that is used for this sake is called Akita kobo #15, where the sake gets its name. Although it is a yamahai sake, it is not too heavy as yamahai can be. A very food friendly sake.

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Chef Ooe talked about visiting the Tohoku region to meet the farmers, ranchers, and fishermen behind many of the products that they are using. For example, the watarigani crab used in this starter has a local name of gazami. I love these local colloquialism regarding food. It seems to be especially prevalent with seafood. The crab is  steamed in sake, spinach, myoga, and Tosa-zu jelly. Tosa-zu is a classic tart dressing made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, and dashi. As a jelly it adds a nice texture to the dish. The Hatsumago sparkling paired well with the Tosa-zu jelly, myoga, and crab. Underneath is some kani-miso, or the offal of the crab, a delicacy and an unexpected and nice surprise. The rich kani-miso was rich and paired well with the Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai.

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Warm Aomori hokkigai appetizer with seri, maitake mushrooms, ginko nuts, and sansho was served with Hakkoda Oroshi Daiginjo. Both the hokkigai clam and sake are from Aomori, so a natural partner. I also love this dish with the accent on both edges of the bowl. Dining at Kozue is also a delight on the eyes. Each time I am here I come across new tableware that capture my attention. The Japanese eat with their eyes and taking in the vessels are part of the pleasure of dining at Kozue.

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Owan soup bowl. Check out this lovely lacquer bowl with silver and gold circles. My neighbor at the dinner, a Japanese travel writer, said, “it is September”, like I should know why this bowl is being used this time of year. Of course, the harvest moon. So here you also get an appreciation that chef Ooe selected this bowl for this dish due to the time of year.

Ichigoni

The owan soup course is a famous local dish called ichigoni of awabi and uni. I’ve tried it in the past and have never liked it, until now. Chef Ooe’s soup was rich in umami and the seafood was pristine. It didn’t hurt that there was matsutake mushrooms and other vegetables in the soup.

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Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai from Aomori, lucky if you can get your hands on this sake. 🙂

PHT Kozue sashimi

Chef Ooe sashimi presentation always has a big impact. How gorgeous is this large katakuchi bowl filled with crushed ice? This is a serving for three guests. Mimmaya bluefin tuna, makogarei, and amaebi. The fresh nori is always a treat. Chef Ooe commented that it is still early in the season and that the tuna was not as fatty as it will be later in the season as the water cools down.

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Amanoto made with kuro koji from Akita. This was my favorite of the night. I wonder if it is because of the black koji – as I am a fan of Okinawa awamori spirit, which is also made with kuro koji. It was served with a Hinai jidori chicken from Akita and included a kiritampo rice ball, a classic dish from Akita. It was nice to see it elevated to this level, as it is a dish often made at home. I think this dish that this was presented in was my favorite of the night.

Sadly I had to leave the dinner, unexpectedly, and missed out on the Yamagata Yonezawa wagyu and the Yamagata soba. Dessert was a rice ice cream. I did love being introduced to new sake, a renewed appreciation for Tohoku ingredients, and seeing new vessels. If you go, I highly recommend asking to have Tohoku sake paired with your meal.

The Tohoku Heroes event runs now through November 30th, both lunch and dinner. There will be a special dinner on the evening of November 29th, where some of the producers will be in attendance. For more details:

http://tokyo.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/news-and-events/events/tohoku-heroes-2015.html

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PBS – I’ll Have What Phil’s Having

Phil Rosenthal at Zaiyu Hasegawa's Den

Phil Rosenthal at Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den

We are so very excited to have been included in Phil Rosenthal’s upcoming food show on PBS, I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. Here is a sneak preview of his Tokyo show:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/what-phils-having/tokyo/

It was great fun showing Phil around some of my favorite Tokyo spots, including chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s Den. I don’t want to say too much more. You’ll have to see the show. Phil also travels to other cities around the world. He’s a lot of fun and his commentary is great.

The show premieres on September 28th. Let us know what you think about it.

Making Tofu with Sonoko Sakai in San Francisco

Guest post by my friend, Janice Espa, on a tofu class she took recently.

After years in the film industry, traveling the world, and becoming more and more passionate about food, Sonoko Sakai decided to follow her culinary path, learn traditional Japanese techniques, and start teaching.  She established the Common Grains initiative to teach people about the cultural roots of Japanese cuisine.

Sonoko Sakai Sensei

Sonoko Sakai Sensei

Today, Sonoko runs workshops all around the US – yet her Los Angeles base is where she’s found most of the time teaching lessons on onigiri, soba, umeboshi pickling, cooking with rice in all of its forms, cooking with shio koji, and tofu-making.

I had the opportunity to catch one of Sonoko’s master classes while she was up in San Francisco for a series of events. My appreciation for tofu has been incremental.  It was always present as a ‘bonus’ item: from soups in Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian cuisine) to many South East Asian stir fries and noodle dishes, but it wasn’t until I visited Kyoto that I became aware of tofu as the star, and not a side dish.  Since then, I’ve become picky about the flavor I find in particular commercial tofu brands. Thus, upon coming across Sonoko’s workshop, I was eager to learn hands-on, and understand the tips and tricks behind sweet, smooth, homemade tofu.

Bean to Water Ratio Chart

Bean to Water Ratio Chart

For the workshop, Sonoko introduced herself and described the two types of tofu we’d be making on the day, she briefly discussed the process start to finish, and immediately got everyone on their feet. In a nutshell, making tofu goes like this:

  1. GRIND
  2. COOK
  3. STRAIN
  4. PRESS

In depth, however, the process is specific, measured, and rewarding.

Tofu starts with good soybeans – which Sonoko recommended purchasing online from a non-GMO organic seller. They must be soaked in water for at least eight hours, then blended until creamy, a soybean slurry. This slurry is simmered with additional water, and cooked for about ten minutes. With a colander, the by-products are separated, the okara is reserved for later use, and the milk is transferred back to another pot. Coagulant, previously diluted in water, is added to the hot soy milk and slowly, but surely, curds begin to form.

Ladling the curdled milk into prepared boxes

Ladling the curdled milk into prepared boxes

By paying close attention, choosing the right type and amount of coagulant, and stirring the soy milk closely, tofu is made.   During the workshop, some groups chose to use nigari (magnesium chloride), others gypsum (calcium sulfate). It was great to be able to compare both results and taste the differences.  We also learned that fresh soy milk, comparable to light cow’s milk, is best for firm tofu, while thicker, rested soy milk, equivalent to whole milk, yields better results for silken tofu.

I preferred the nigari, hands down. It is in fact sweeter.  Now, when I’m at the supermarket browsing through brands of organic tofu, I pay closer attention to the label.

Earlier that morning, we had prepared the boxes for the tofu by lining small aluminum trays with holes punched through them, two pieces of cotton cloth lined on top. Traditional wooden Japanese zaru boxes have holes in them, plastic ones are also available, or a colander may also be used. The do-it-yourself (DIY) version is simple to make if you don’t have the necessary tools or can’t access a tofu making kit.

Tofu: pressed and ready for tasting

Tofu: pressed and ready for tasting

For silken tofu, the coagulant is mixed directly into thick soy milk. It is placed into a small container and steamed in a pot with boiling water, just like making chawanmushi, a savory Japanese egg custard.

Steamed cups of silken tofu

Steamed cups of silken tofu

From beginning to end Sonoko made sure we not only understood what was happening to the soon-to-be tofu, but also that the residue resulting from different steps of the process be put to good use.

This was my favorite part of the lesson:

From the whey, we made a most flavorful miso soup.

From the lees (okara), we made croquettes.

From the chilled soy milk, silken tofu topped with sweetened ginger syrup.

Okara and vegetable croquettes

Okara and vegetable croquettes

With the momen or pressed tofu, we served hiyayakko: cold tofu with soy sauce, freshly ground ginger, and scallions. We also made shirae-ae (a tofu and sesame paste) to coat green beans and cherry tomatoes, and serve as a salad.

Pressed tofu, cut into squares for hiyayakko

Pressed tofu, cut into squares for hiyayakko

The rules that apply to great tofu are the same as everything else in healthy, seasonal Japanese cuisine: organic and well-sourced grains followed by personal preference on which coagulant to use.

A fun, eye-opening experience, delicious in every step of the way. I’m ready to start sourcing my utensils to tackle some tofu making at home, and will be raving about the sweetness of the simplest miso soup elevated by the whey of soybeans.

Tools and ingredients

Tools and ingredients

The $160 tofu class was held at the San Francisco Cooking School.

https://www.sfcooking.com/hands-on-cooking-classes

For more on the tofu-making workshop and a recipe request, feel free to contact Janice.

To learn about the Common Grains initiative and Sonoko’s upcoming events, please visit:

Common Grains – http://commongrains.com/about-us/

Sonoko’s blog – http://www.cooktellsastory.com/

Janice Espa photo

Janice Espa

Janice Espa is a Spanish-Peruvian food enthusiast; an avid traveller and inquisitive taster who explores culture through cuisine.  Janice lives in San Francisco where she writes and styles food. Her days are spent visiting grower’s markets, checking out restaurants, and shopping at specialty stores to discover goods from every corner of the world.

Feel free to email suggestions and travel tips, or to contact Janice for her own recommendations, whether you’re visiting Peru, trekking South America or doing a road trip along the east coast of Australia.

Email:  janicespa at gmail.com