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 David Myers, who trained under Charlie Trotter and Chef Daniel Boulud before opening his LA restaurant Sona, which earned a Michelin star. He was named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 2003 and Angeleno’s Chef of the Year in 2004. He eventually left his eponymous restaurant group in LA and started a new one, The Gypsy Chef. In 2015 he opened Adrift, a restaurant in the Marina Bay Sands luxury hotel in Singapore whose menu features dishes inspired by Chef David’s travels throughout Japan and Southeast Asia.
In this excerpt, Chef David tells us about how working with a Japanese chef and his first encounter with sushi sparked his interest in the culture and cuisine of Japan.
“My first real interest in Japan came about in 1997 when I was working at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. This young Japanese cook came from France to work there as well, and when he walked in, I was very intrigued, because he had just one bag, not five, wore a jean jacket, and immediately started working. The way he worked was fast and smooth, and his cooking style was very simple. I thought, ‘Wow, maybe this is the Japanese way. Very simple, very minimal.’ We quickly became very good friends and started working together. I learned a great deal from him through the way he cooked and prepped food. He had only one knife, a simple French knife. When I asked why, he said, ‘I have one knife and it’s terrible, but I only need one.’ So it was that mindset – that bushido ‘way of the warrior’ sense – that I have now come to know. That chef was Nori Sugie. We became great friends and still are friends to this day.
“That was the start of my interest in Japanese culture and cooking. I’d never even had Japanese food before I met Nori. He took me out for my very first sushi experience in 1997. It was scary, exhilarating, and exciting all at once. Oh, I loved it! We drank hot sake, ate sushi, and then, for another first, I had fugu skin! My first time eating sushi was definitely crazy, but I loved it. I especially loved the various textures of the food.
“Looking back on it, it pales in comparison to the sushi I’ve encountered in Japan since that first experience. I went from having a salad of fugu skin to now regularly eating the shirako, or liver of wild fugu, or the hormones of sea cucumber inside a little egg custard called ‘chawanmushi.’ My palate has completely evolved over the years. But I’ll never forget that first experience eating sushi, because it was filled with excitement and a little bit of fear when eating raw fish.
“I started buying books on Japanese cooking, and I realized that I wanted to delve deeper into a simpler lifestyle – very much like a monk – where I could focus on one thing and eat and live very simply. For monks it’s obviously about religion, but for me it was about cooking. During my time at Charlie Trotter’s and at Restaurant Daniel in New York City, I tried to pare down everything in my life.
“When I dine in Japan, I’m usually very quiet. Even if I’m talking to someone, I speak in a low voice unless I’m in a yakitori restaurant where it’s fun and loud. I love the food. I love the service. I love the culture and the aesthetics. To me, aesthetics are very important in food. You can admire the beauty of the seasons because they are represented in the dishes and the overall meal. The Japanese care so deeply, and they have such emotion about their food.”
Read more about David Myers and the other chefs in Chef’s Choice: 22 Culinary Masters Tell How Japanese Food Culture Influenced Their Careers and Cuisine.