By Jennifer 8. Lee | June 20, 2007
Many of the “Japanese” restaurants in this country have Chinese chefs (those Asian guys behind the sushi counter? Chances are they have never been to Japan). Florence Fabricant profiles the hot new Chinese restaurant with a Japanese chef: Wayika, which will be opening up in Gramercy Park Hotel next month Yuji Wakiya, who is a celebrity chef in Japan, came to Ian Schrager‘s attention via Richie Notar of the group that owns Nobu. Mr. Wakiya will be travelling back and forth between New York City and Japan (where his wife and youn twins live) for the first six months. When he’s not here, Koji Hagihara, will be managing the kitchen. (When I first tried doing research on Yuji Wakiya last year, I found one English language news article on him in a random English-langauge Japanese magazine. But within a matter of weeks, when the restaurant opens, his Google count will skyrocket. This is just the beginning).
I went to the real Wakiya in Tokyo with my friend Tomoko Hosaka last December And it really was a stunning meal. Japanese people are really obsessed with food and some of the best Chinese restaurants in the world are in Japan. Why? Because Japanese people love food (remember they gave us Iron Chef!) and they revere Chinese culture (if not the country). And they really treasure quality. So as the Iron Chef Chinese pointed out to me in an interview last December, Japan is one of the very few countries in the world where the top Chinese chefs are not themselves, ethnically Chinese. That is because Chinese cuisine is still considered a high art in Japan â€” whereas in the rest of the world Chinese cuisine is something that is carried on the backs of immigrants.
So the Wakiya restaurant in Japan is truly fantastic â€” the delicacy of Japanese presentation mixed with the rich flavors of Chinese cooking. One dish involved steaming a live shrimp right in front of us at the table with tea poured over a hot rock. So its antennae were waving on its gray body one second. Then the bamboo top went down and the tea hit the rock. And 30 seconds later. It was pink and antennae not waving. It is very weird having something go from live to cooked at your dinner table.
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