9 questions with Chef Jimi Nakamatsu
Editor’s note: Attending Sample the Sierra? Watch the Sierra Chef Challenge, where three local chefs will face off in an Iron Chef-type showdown. Competitors include Cold Water Brewery and Grill’s Chef Justin Kaplan, Mirabelle Lake Tahoe’s Chef Kenneth Druly and Chef Jimi Nakamatsu, who recently completed a four-year stint as executive chef of Kalani’s Restaurant. Kaplan won the title in 2015.
Where are you from originally?
San Jose, California
How would your best customer describe your food?
Hopefully – “Not Repulsive”
What’s your favorite ingredient/flavor this season?
No one particular ingredient or flavor is my favorite. As a chef, we must not have such a narrow focus, but instead, see what’s available and utilize it to its fullest. We, as professionals, must be able to get what we need out of ingredients through the use of techniques, other flavor pairings and experience in order to achieve our end vision.
Where do you like to dine out locally when you’re not working?
Tahoe has always been a tough place to eat. Most restaurant freezers are jam packed with pre-made products that are heated and served. That being said, I’ll tell you about the last terrific restaurant experience I had, which happened at Sidellis Brewery. The menu is smart, simple and complements their wonderful beer selection. There are so many beer/ale choices that change at the whim of the brewmaster, that navigating all the selections can be daunting, but the staff at Sidellis are so helpful and knowledgeable that they make it easy for a new consumer. Sidellis people, you owe me a beer for the commercial.
What food do you see trending right now?
Responsibility. I’m not going to call out a specific food, I would rather call out the importance of a bigger picture-type trend. Population growth is exponential, while the earth’s resources are finite. The trend that is necessary and that will shape how we make food and what type of food is offered will be one that will primary based on environmental and sustainability impacts. It all starts with us as professionals and the choices we make on a daily level.
Is there an ingredient or particular flavor that you disliked as a child that you love cooking with now?
Rice. Weird. Embarrassing. Stupid. It’s pretty shocking to hear a Japanese person (let alone chef) say that they didn’t like rice; but as a young child, I couldn’t stand it. At family gatherings, I know my parents probably got a lot of “he doesn’t like rice, what is wrong with your boy?” It’s totally true though. I think the “Rice Gene” kicked in when I turned around 16 and it’s been non-stop rice from then on out. Rice is so versatile. A staple for billions of people … all the different varietals with individual nuances that make them better for so many specific things. Sushi, Paella, Mochi, Horchatta, Risotto … the list goes on and on. I was so lame.
What’s your favorite comfort food (not necessarily on your menu)?
Tonjiru – Ton (Pork) + Jiro (Soup). My Mother would make a Okinawan/Hawaiian (Rafute) version of this and it is not good for you. Essentially, she would braise hunks of pork belly, then utilizing the broth, she would make a miso soup and add some daikon radish chunks and Bam! Pork Soup. Super fatty hunks of pork with miso soup; how can you go wrong? On a side note, I’ve made this many times, and it’s never as good as hers. Thanks, Mom.
If you could choose, what would be your last meal on earth?
McDonald’s Filet O’ Fish. I know, it’s not what anyone expects to hear. Over the years, the Filet O’ Fish has gone through a number of changes, and it’s never going to be as good as it once was … but it’s more than just a sandwich. Back when I was a kid, fast food wasn’t a meal on the weekdays and wasn’t engrained/used as it is in today’s society. For us it was a weekend treat. We could actually drink soda too! My father got me hooked on these and if we went to McDonald’s on a Saturday, he would get one and I would get one. It was family time. I guess it brings me back to a better more innocent time. Food can do that. It has the power to bring back good memories and tie us into our past.
What do you love about food?
Food ties everyone together. Food is pretty much at every family gathering or other important events in people lives. Think about where all the best gossip happens. It’s at a dinner table or in the kitchen, right? Food brings people together in a way that they can make memories and we are a part of that. I have the best job in the world. It has the power to make good experiences for total strangers and that’s how I personally give back to society. I don’t care if people know who we are in the back or what it takes for us to put food on your plates. I just hope that we’ve created something that was conducive to making a wonderful experience that carries out throughout their lives. If we accomplish that, we done something more than a job; we’ve actually made a positive difference into peoples’ lives.
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