Each month in our newsletter, we post an excerpt from Chef’s Choice: 22 Culinary Masters Tell How Japanese Food Culture Influenced Their Careers and Cuisine to introduce you to the featured chefs. This month we’re spotlighting Barry Wine, a self-taught cook who opened The Quilted Giraffe and built the highly acclaimed executive dining club at Sony’s New York office.
In this excerpt, Wine describes how The Quilted Giraffe became influenced by Japanese cuisine and culture.
“The Quilted Giraffe didn’t have any Japanese influences until after 1983, several years after we moved to New York. Before that, I had been to France and saw this thing called a ‘tasting menu’ – degustation is what they call it. A tasting menu is many courses served in small portions. That was one of the things that The Quilted Giraffe pioneered. We were probably the first restaurant to serve a tasting menu in America. Not even the French restaurants here were doing it.
“A tasting menu is very difficult to do. In a typical meal, the customer gets two or three courses. With a tasting menu, you’re giving them ten courses, so you’re cooking a lot of food! Timing is very important, and with respect to timing, the smaller the ingredients are cut up, the faster they cook. At The Quilted Giraffe, I was doing that to make multiple courses, but the dishes started looking Japanese because of the way the ingredients were cut. I was always interested in dishware, and I like the way Japanese food was presented in magazines. I guess Nouvelle Cuisine was what we were doing, but our tasting menus for Nouvelle Cuisine looked Japanese.
“In 1983, there were many Japanese in New York, buying real estate, eating and drinking wine, and wanting to learn about everything American. Many were guests at The Quilted Giraffe. One day a Japanese customer said to me, ‘Your food looks Japanese. Why don’t you go to Japan, and I’ll introduce you to some people. You’ll get to see some Japanese restaurants.’ So that’s how the Japanese influence at The Quilted Giraffe came about.
“I was lucky, because my first day in Japan I met Mr. Shizuo Tsuji, founder of the TSUJI Culinary Institute.
“Tsuji-san took me to Kitcho, the most famous kaiseki restaurant in Japan. The food, the service – everything at Kitcho – became the standard for The Quilted Giraffe. That day I also met the son of Akio Morita, who was co-founder of Sony Corporation and whose family had a miso business in Nagoya. It wasn’t until later, maybe in 1986 or 1987, that I met Mr. Sumihara and his ‘extended family,’ who belonged to a new religion called Tenrikyo. They were probably the ones who taught me the most about Japanese culture. I became very close with them. I visited them many times when I was in Japan and incorporated what I learned at The Quilted Giraffe.
“On one occasion, Mr. Sumihara arranged for his daughter, who was extremely interested in food and cooking, to come to New York and do a ten-course kaiseki dinner party for about eight of the most important people he knew. She brought her own dishes for the dinner, and when it came time to go back to Japan, she left me all of these very beautiful, beautiful dishes! So that was one of the things that got me started using Japanese dishware. Soon after that, I started going on trips to Japan to buy dishware.”
Read more about Barry Wine and the other chefs in Chef’s Choice: 22 Culinary Masters Tell How Japanese Food Culture Influenced Their Careers and Cuisine.