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 James Wierzelewski, the Corporate Vice President of Food & Beverage Operations at Rotana Hotel Management Corporation in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where he develops new concepts of service methods as well as maintains Rotana’s food and beverage standards in terms of quality of product and service. He has launched, directed, and been associated with numerous culinary establishments across North America, Europe and Asia, including the New York Marriott Marquis, Harrods, and Hyatt Hotels, where he served as Executive Chef.
In this excerpt, Chef James offers his advice about the use of Japanese ingredients in Western restaurants.
“What chefs need to do with Japanese food is take four, five, or ten products – miso, oils, vinegars, rubs, or marinades – and bring them to the customer in a variety of dishes.
“Making Japanese ingredients recognizable and approachable is what I recommend that small Japanese food manufacturers do to sell more of their ingredients or products to Western chefs. Take soy, for instance. I’m making a dish with soy, but I want to do something different with the ingredient that will leave an impression on the guest. Instead of having bottled soy on the table, I use dehydrated soy salt that a waiter can easily grind onto the guests’ salad, appetizer, or main dish using a cheese grater or spice grinder. A simple and inexpensive item like shaved soy salt can have a memorable impact on customers.
“Here are some of the Japanese ingredients that I think we will see more of in the future. The first is miso. There are so many forms of miso, several of which we use every single day here. I think miso is going to be around forever. And we’ll see more wasabi oil as part of a dressing or on light greens. Just a drop will do! Chefs will sprinkle it over a piece of fish or other dish. Plus, the smoke temperature of this oil is beautiful – it doesn’t burn quickly like a high-grade olive oil does. I can float it on top of a soup if I just want the essence, but it washes out quickly when eaten. Finally, I’ll guarantee you that we will see soy salt used in a lot of restaurants in the next year or two. And mark my words – a waiter will come to the table and grate something over a noodle dish or a salad and when asked, ‘What is that?’ he’ll say, ‘It’s soy sauce.’
“To expand their market, Japanese producers and restaurants need to do what the wine industry has done well – have experts talk about their products and educate their customers. I believe in the philosophy of bringing food out to the table to broaden its acceptance. Remember 20 years ago, when you ordered wine by the glass? It was either white or red. Today, at fine restaurants, when you order wine by the glass, the server brings you the glass, tells you a little about the wine, and asks, ‘Would you like to try it?’ You sip, enjoy the moment, and then say, ‘Oh, that’s great, please pour me a glass!’ As a result, wine sales have greatly increased. If Japanese food manufacturers encouraged chefs to use their products in unique and memorable ways like this, their sales would soar.”
Read more about James Wierzelewski and the other chefs in Chef’s Choice: 22 Culinary Masters Tell How Japanese Food Culture Influenced Their Careers and Cuisine.