Category Archives: “Take Five” Q&A

Take Five with the One and Only Nobu Matsuhisa

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa in the new garden dining space at Nobu Palo Alto.
Chef Nobu Matsuhisa in the new garden dining space at Nobu Palo Alto.

Much like Madonna, Adele and Beyonce, this storied chef is so recognized the globe over that you know him readily by simply his first name.

The one and only Nobu Matsuhisa came to town this week to christen the new Japanese-inspired outdoor garden dining space at his Nobu Palo Alto restaurant and hotel, completely transforming what was formerly a florist shop into a zen oasis.

If you have an appetite for fine Japanese cuisine, you owe a debt of gratitude to him. If you appreciate impeccable sushi and sashimi, especially done with groundbreaking global influences such as jalapenos, olive oil, garlic, and lemon, you have him to thank for introducing this new style. Matsuhisa helped turn what was once considered exotic into a mainstay of which we now can’t get enough.

His accomplishments are nothing short of breathtaking, opening 21 restaurants in the United States and Canada alone, not to mention 16 in Europe; five in Mexico and the Caribbean; six in the Middle East and Africa; and eight in Asia and Australia. In all, 56 restaurants across the globe. Moreover, his hotel in downtown Palo Alto is one of 34 operating or in process of opening worldwide.

The Palo Alto restaurant is one of 56 Nobu locations worldwide.
The Palo Alto restaurant is one of 56 Nobu locations worldwide.

It’s been quite the journey for Matsuhisa, one that began with the most challenging of circumstances in Japan, when he lost his father at age 8 in a motorcycle accident, only later to get expelled from high school for acting out. Looking to turn his life around at 18, he moved to Tokyo to apprentice in a sushi restaurant. What followed next were a series of soaring highs and crushing blows — moving to Lima to open his first restaurant, only to have that business partnership dissolve badly, then relocating to Alaska to open a Japanese restaurant, only to see it destroyed in an accidental fire less than two months later.

Eventually, armed with a green card, he immigrated to Southern California with his wife and two young daughters for a fresh start. In 1987 he opened Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills. There, a regular nudged him repeatedly to open an outpost in New York until he agreed to do so, debuting restaurant Nobu in Manhattan in 1994. That regular was none other than actor Robert DeNiro, who would go on to partner with Matsuhisa in all his future projects and be instrumental in steering him to opening hotels, too.

Yesterday, I had a chance to spend a few minutes with Matsuhisa in the tranquil garden with its decorative bronze gate, seasonal blooms, and boulders that were hand-picked and flown in from Japan.

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Take Five with Pastry Chef Guillermo Soto Torres of the Four Seasons Silicon Valley

Pastry Chef Guillermo Soto Torres with mini versions of his new holiday buche de Noel.
Pastry Chef Guillermo Soto Torres with mini versions of his new holiday buche de Noel.

It’s a good bet that Guillermo Soto Torres is one of the few — if not only — pastry chefs in the Bay Area with a degree in telematics, the interdisciplinary field that combines telecommunications, vehicular technologies, electrical engineering, and computer science.

He had hardly stepped foot into that scientific career, though, when he made a major pivot to use his knack for precision in a whole different way. He started working in a chocolate shop in his native Mexico, then began studying baking books. It wasn’t long before he jumped full bore into pastry making about 15 years ago.

That led to stints at Four Seasons hotels in Costa Rica and Florida, before coming two years ago to the Four Seasons Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto to become head pastry chef.

Earlier this week, the 36-year-old chef invited me and two other media colleagues into his hotel kitchen to watch and learn as he made what will be the stunning centerpiece dessert for Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas Day buffet — the buche de Noel.

A flourless chocolate cake version done up in a shiny white chocolate glaze with crunchy, dehydrated raspberries.
A flourless chocolate cake version done up in a shiny white chocolate glaze with crunchy, dehydrated raspberries.

His version of the classic French yule log cake is comprised of a flourless chocolate cake on a base of crispy hazelnut feuilletine (crunchy crepe shards) that’s rolled around chestnut cream and an anise-flavored orange compote before it’s all enrobed in shiny white chocolate glaze and holiday garnishes. To serve all the expected guests on those two days, he will make 100 of them.

He talked about his favorite ingredient to work with, the one that’s he’s allergic to, the one dessert he could eat every single day, and the rather ill-fated day that he began working at the Silicon Valley hotel.

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Take Five with Chef Gloria Dominguez About Closing Her Oakland Restaurant And New Beginnings

Chef Gloria Dominguez, who nutured Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana for 14 years. (Photo by Eva Kolenko)
Chef Gloria Dominguez, who nutured Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana for 14 years. (Photo by Eva Kolenko)

Chef Gloria Dominguez was nearly set to sign a lease for a restaurant space in Tucson, AZ in 2005 when her architect son Alfonso called to stop her. He had found the perfect place in Old Oakland, a Victorian with soaring ceilings and immense possibility. No matter if the neighborhood was rather a ghost town back then with empty storefronts all around, Gloria and Alfonso believed in it.

They put their heart and soul into creating Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana. They transformed the space into a vibrant oasis with a pressed tin ceiling, vivid canvasses, and artsy white-washed wood chairs that Alfonso made himself. He created what’s thought to be the first Mezcal-focused bar in the area, serving up inventive cocktails to be enjoyed as old black and white Mexican movies projected on one of the walls of the lounge. Gloria attracted crowds, including the coaches and players of the Golden State Warriors, for her authentic chiles en nogada and chicken mole.

But now after 14 years, they plan to close the restaurant, following notice from their landlord that their rent was not only going to increase, but that they were limited to a two-year lease.

The restaurant’s last dinner service will be Nov. 30. After that, the restaurant will be available for private bookings through the end of December. The bar will be open during limited hours, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until the end of the year. And a special mezcal and tequila tasting on Dec. 8. Tickets are $55 each.

I had a chance to get to know Gloria when I profiled her in my cookbook, “East Bay Cooks: Signature Recipes from the Best Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries” (Figure 1). Last week, I had a chance to talk to her about the restaurant’s impending closure and what the future holds.

Q: How hard of a decision was this to make?             

A: Very, very difficult. Every day, I couldn’t sleep. It really hurt my son, too. There are so many beautiful memories here and all the graduations, proposals, bridal showers and weddings that were celebrated. People have been coming by with tears in their eyes and choking up.

Sometimes I think that things happen for a reason, though. I think better things will come along. Some investors who are doing projects in San Francisco and Walnut Creek have already approached us. We haven’t made any decisions. We’lll just see how it goes. We don’t want to rush into things.

Q: You still have your other restaurant in Antioch?

A: Yes, Taqueria Salsa, which we opened in 1988, which is much more casual. When we first opened, it was going to be everything with masa — like gorditas and sopes. But then we started selling burritos for the students and the Kaiser employees. Everyone always wants burritos. They are the Mexican burger. (laughs)

Q: When Tamarindo closes, what will you do with your time?

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Take Five With Chefs Graham Elliot, Lincoln Carson, Michelle Karr-Ueoka, and Rory Hermann

Chef Graham Elliot, who is hilarious. Note the shirt.

Chef Graham Elliot, who is hilarious. Note the shirt.

 

MAUI, HAWAII — This year’s Maui portion of the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival featured an impressive line-up of illustrious chefs.

I had a chance to sit down with four of them last week: Graham Elliott who’s become one of the most recognizable faces, thanks to his stints judging “MasterChef” and “Top Chef”; Rory Hermann, director of culinary operations for Sprout Restaurant Group in Los Angeles, which includes Otium, Bestia, Republique, Barrel & Ashes, and the Rose Cafe; Lincoln Carson, one of the nation’s premier pastry chefs who worked for eight years with the Michael Mina Group, and now has his own Lincoln Heavy Industries Pastry & Hospitality Consulting company in Los Angeles; and Pastry Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka, who owns MW Restaurant in Honolulu with her husband, Wade Ueoka.

They were all part of the festival’s “A Chef’s Paradise. The walk-around evening repast, held on the lawn at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, featured cocktails, wines, and creative bites.

The chefs talked about their favorite Hawaiian ingredients, their guilty pleasures, and more. Carson and Karr-Ueoka also confirmed that they will be partnering with Michael Mina to open specialty food boutiques in his The Street, a gourmet food hall, in the newly transformed International Market Place in Honolulu. Look for The Street to open sometime in the first half of 2017. It will join Mina’s StripSteak, which opened its doors there earlier this summer.

Elliot's dish of Hawaiian Kajiki (blue marlin) crudo with toasted coconut, Maui lilikoi, and whipped avocado.

Elliot’s dish of Hawaiian Kajiki (blue marlin) crudo with toasted coconut, Maui lilikoi, and whipped avocado.

Graham Elliot

Q: What’s it been like for you to be on all of these TV cooking competition shows?

A: It’s super fun. I get to be myself on them. I want to educate people about cooking. If you have a contestant on “MasterChef,” the worst thing you can do is s–t on them about making something awful. Instead, I try to tell them how it could be better.

Q: Your favorite Hawaiian ingredient?

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Take Five with Ming Tsai (The Sequel), On His Bay Area Connection, The First Dish He Ever Cooked, and The Only Food TV Show He Watches

Chef Ming Tsai preparing sliders at his Macy's Valley Fair demo. (Photo by Moanalani Jeffrey)

Chef Ming Tsai preparing sliders at his Macy’s Valley Fair demo. (Photo by Moanalani Jeffrey)

After interviewing celeb Chef Ming Tsai five years ago by phone, I finally had the chance last Thursday to spend time with him face to face, when I hosted him at his cooking demo at Macy’s Valley Fair in Santa Clara.

The 51-year-old James Beard Award-winning chef-owner of Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon in Massachusetts, star of “Simply Ming” on PBS, and member of Macy’s Culinary Council, is also the ambassador for Family Reach, an organization that offers emotional and financial assistance to families with a child or parent afflicted with cancer.

More than 100 adoring fans turned out to watch Tsai cook salmon salad with citrus and pine nuts, shiitake and parmesan sliders, and almond-oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwiches.

Tsai is no stranger to the Bay Area, having been a sous chef at Silks at the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco way back when. His parents, Stephen and Iris, also live in Palo Alto. His father, a former rocket scientist in Dayton, OH, is a professor emeritus in aeronautics at Stanford University.

After lunching with their son that day at Lyfe Kitchen in downtown Palo Alto, Tsai’s parents drove down from Palo Alto to watch from the front row as their son cooked and captivated the audience with his quick wit.

Tsai joked that after he married his wife and she took his surname, she became her very own major. That’s because she became — wait for it, wait for it, and say it aloud “Polly Tsai.”

As Tsai posed for photos and signed copies of his cookbook after the demo, he spoke in Mandarin to some elderly Chinese ladies, and even revealed that his name actually translates from Chinese into “brilliant dish.” How apropos is that?

Yours truly working the microphone as Ming cooks up a storm. (Photo by Moanalani Jeffrey)

Yours truly working the microphone as Ming cooks up a storm. (Photo by Moanalani Jeffrey)

The huge crowd that turned out for the demo. (Photo by Carolyn Jung)

The huge crowd that turned out for the demo. (Photo by Carolyn Jung)

What follows is a short interview I did with him prior to the demo.

Q: How old were you when you cooked for the first time?

A: I was 6. I made my own Duncan Hines cake — vanilla. I friggin’ loved it, taking the mix, adding egg and oil, and boom — cake!

My friends who were all out playing baseball made fun of me. They were like, ‘You’re doing what?’ But then I sold slices of cake to them for 25 cents each. Pretty smart, huh?

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