Excerpt from Chef’s Choice
Each month we will feature 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’ll introduce you to Chef Michael Anthony, Executive Chef and Partner of Gramercy Tavern and Executive Chef and Managing Director of Untitled and Studio Cafe at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where he is a mentor to The Gohan Society’s Scholarship recipient Chef Suzanne Cupps. We are also pleased that he is a member of The Gohan Society’s Culinary Advisory Board.
Chef Michael developed his affection for the seasonality of Japanese cuisine while cooking professionally in Tokyo. After working at various restaurants in Paris, Chef Michael became Executive Chef of Gramercy Tavern in 2006, and a year later The New York Times gave the restaurant at 3-star review. In 2012 Chef Michael received the James Beard Award for Best Chef in New York City.
We use Japanese ingredients because they taste intriguing.
We use kombu, dried bonito flakes, and shiro dashi, a seasoning agent that’s not even that common in Japan. We use certain seasoned fish roe as a textural and aesthetic component. The one menu item that was clearly inspired by Japanese cooking techniques and ingredients is tsukemono, or pickles. At first, we offered simple vinegar pickles. Now, we make a dozen different kinds of new pickles using fermented rice bran, or nukazuke, in our own fermentation system.
The idea of natural fermentation, the aroma and the earthiness, piques the curiosity of most customers, but the flavor of the nukazuke pickles is foreign to the American palette. In some cases, without understanding the context, a whiff of the pickles sends the signal, “Something’s wrong here!” However, when guests get accustomed to the aroma and then taste the fermented turnips, radishes, sunchokes (also known as “Jerusalem artichokes”), and parsnips, most diners like what they taste. There is pungency but also a surprising crispness in the texture and crunch.
In the end, we are extending the life of our seasonal ingredients by preserving them through natural methods of fermentation. I’d like to think that this is not just me trying to promote the product. The crispy crunch, the interesting graininess of the rice bran, and the inexplicable pungency achieved through natural fermentation all create an irresistible pull to these pickles. It’s very hard to stop eating them, even if your palette is initially put off by them.