Did you know that Ruth Reichl’s an editor-at-large for Random House now?
That’s not the only thing I learned on the first day of The Culinary Institute of America’s 13th annual Worlds of Flavor conference, but I thought it was pretty interesting, nonetheless — almost as interesting as the fact that the Japanese used to throw away the fatty parts of the bluefin tuna in favor of the leaner parts.
That changed after the Japanese developed an appreciation of beef and thus also an appreciation for the fatty, marbled belly of the bluefin.
At least that’s what Yousuke Imada said, through a translator, as he was curing shad during the conference's first demonstration. Imada’s the chef-owner of Kyubey, a five-unit chain specializing in sushi and sashimi with four restaurants in Tokyo and a fifth in Osaka.
“Japan: Flavors of Culture” is the theme of this year’s Worlds of Flavor. It’s the first one I’ve been to, and so far, so good.
I’m a bit skeptical of the tuna-belly “fact,” though. Sometimes information like that gets a bit messed up in translation (although I must say the interpreter at the conference is one of the best I’ve ever encountered), and sometimes chefs who are very skilled at slicing tuna or assessing how much salt to sprinkle onto a shad have an incomplete grasp of history (or of nutrition, or modern animal husbandry or animal rights or the details of genetic modification or the effects on the metabolism of high fructose corn syrup or other aspects of food that they’re often asked to discuss).
Or maybe the Japanese used to throw away tuna bellies. It’s not like I know everything.
I’m more confident of the fact that the former editor-in-chief of Gourmet is now editing at Random House. Because she told me she was, and I’m just not an important enough person in her life for her to lie to me. I think this was only the second or third time we’d ever met.
She was speaking with White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, who was taking a break from his presentation of adzuki beans layered with chocolate and served as an Opera pastry.
The organizers of the conference let us off easy today. They introduced themselves and the conference sponsors and then just had one presentation, by Japanese author and cooking-school owner Yoshiki Tsuji, who has the excellent qualities of speaking beautiful Cambridge English and also having the sort of cute Japanese sense of humor that meant his PowerPoint presentation had cartoon drawings of animals who had eaten too much (having gorged themselves on the cuisine of Osaka) and others imploring us to wake up.
I'm going to have to figure out how to put cute Japanese cartoons in my presentations.
The lecture part of Tsuji's presentation actually came after three brief cooking demonstrations — the first, as I mentioned, by Imada-san, the second, of a sea bream soup that would be part of a kaiseki meal, by Kyoto chef Yoshihiro Takahashi, who's the managing director and third-generation chef of Kinobu in that city, and the third by Kunio Tokuola, who is also the third-generation owner of a restaurant in Kyoto, called Kyôto Kitcho, but his demonstration was of an Osaka-style preparation made of herbs and flowers and other ingredients meant, basically, to look beautiful. Apparently in Osaka kaiseki, each dish is meant to express a different aspect of enjoyment of the meal — flavor, aroma, what have you. Tokuoka's dish, which he called Yamoki Kashima and is meant to evoke a Chinese folk tale, was supposed to represent beauty.
And it was beautiful. I should have taken a picture.
Or maybe not. I neglected to bring the wire with the company camera that would let me download the pictures immediately for you, which is why instead you have a picture of a flower arrangement from one of the sake booths at the “marketplace” and walk-around tasting that followed the Tsuji-san show. I used my cell phone to take it and, well, let’s just say my cell phone pictures are best viewed as abstract images.
Of course the food was good — lots of tasty fish in dashi with other elements added, a surprising number of pork belly presentations, indicating that that particular cut of meat has at least one winter of life left in it, and something I hadn’t seen before — “Delacata.” That’s what the catfish folk are calling a farm-raised variety of the fish that their letting grow to about three times the size of the usual farm-raised catfish, making it a suitable substitute in some preparations for grouper, Chilean sea bass and other species that have, by many accounts, been over-fished.
So that was new.
So is the cotton candy at Golden Corral, which corporate chef Debra Olson told me the chain was rolling out. I asked if she was going to be adding Japanese food to the Golden Corral buffet soon.
She said: “You never know.”