Visiting Chef Tsutomu Konishi: A Culinary Diplomat from Japan Cooks for LA
Melding Western flavors into traditional Japanese dishes is Tokyo-based Chef Tsutomu Konishi's passion. Acting as a culinary ambassador, this month the classically trained executive sous chef from the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi (near Tokyo Station) has popped in as a visiting chef both at the Beverly Wilshire's The Blvd and now through Saturday, he's in the kitchen at Onyx, the swank sushi bar and Japanese restaurant at the Four Seasons Westlake Village. His mission: to gently remind people that Japan remains open for business. Just as Japan's sake brewers are encouraging people to drink sake, Konishi is here to share his skills and encourage international visitors to return "to help the north."
Jeff Kirshbaum Chef Konishi made himself at home in The Blvd's kitchen.
To prepare his modern Japanese dishes, all made with seasonal, U.S.-sourced ingredients, Konishi brought an arsenal that includes his razor sharp Korin knife, a brand coveted by stateside chefs. He also brings his traditional Japanese sensibility where plating and presentation are equally important to flavor. At The Blvd, to recreate his Japanese tableware, he hollowed out cucumbers in which he carefully layered sashimi; tea leaves and seaweed formed the bed. Portions here are twice the size they would be in Japan, advises Konishi.
His pop-up menu was a hit at the Beverly Hills eatery where he offered a taste of Tokyo without the flight. Among the favorites were his picture perfect sashimi plate and lamb chops, seared and marinated in a blend of American and Korean-style red miso; house-made pickled vegetables and lotus root are add-ons. A former chef at the Japanese consulate in Seattle, Konishi is well acquainted with U.S. ingredients but was most impressed with the sheer number available. "Now you can buy anything," he finds. Catching his eye and palate are mini-vegetables like turnips and carrots ("so pretty"), micro-herbs (mini-shiso flowers add snap to the sashimi) and a variety of other edible flowers. All are considerable less expensive than they would be in Japan he says.
Jeff Kirshbaum Chef Konishi's elegant sashimi plate at The Blvd.
His innovative and lighter take on the Caesar salad is a combination of Eastern and Western flavors; crisp Romaine is dressed with a yuzu miso dressing and parmesan cheese (he opts out of the traditional egg and anchovy). Nasturtium petals add color to the salad. After being away from the U.S. for eight years, Konishi's first order of business was to go out for his faves: Cobb salad, pasta with pesto, a hamburger and a Samuel Adams draft beer. "I'm happy this time to eat and drink like an American," he says.
Now cooking at Onyx, each night begins with an Iron Chef-style cook-off as Konishi "competes" with Onyx's Chef Masa Shimakawa. An ingredient is revealed--like wild Sockeye Salmon, Maine Lobster or Hudson Valley Foie Gras--and the chefs each craft a dish. Diners vote on which will be the nightly special. To get a taste of Tokyo technique, and learn how to make several traditional Japanese dishes, sign up for chef Konishi's cooking class scheduled for this Saturday June 25 in Onyx's gleaming kitchen.