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The Squaw Peak-size chip on Yamamoto's shoulder is one major reason he's consented to this unprecedented access. The simple fact that he has created outrageous gourmet banquets for Arab princes, movie stars and captains of industry, and yet his name is nonexistent in American culinary media, irks him to distraction.
"Angelina Jolie and Mr. Brad Pitt love my giraffe tongue," he huffs, working himself into a lather, pacing the linoleum floor of his kitchen as he recalls the dish. "Giraffe tongue very tough. I marinate for four day in red wine and garlic before braising with leeks, shallot and carrot. I also make them monkey meat tartare, with caper and cornichon. Mr. Pitt go bananas over monkey. Even lick plate. You don't believe? I show you photo Jolie give me."
(As stated above, giraffe can be imported legally. Most species of monkey, though, are off limits.)
Yamamoto vanishes, then reappears to proudly show off a framed, autographed photo of the star of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider dedicated to "Yammi, the greatest chef I know."
Somehow, I'm not surprised. After all, Jolie's known for her wacky behavior and pronouncements, everything from French-kissing her brother at the Oscars to wearing a vial of former hubby Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck. The tattooed, bubble-lipped beauty even once bragged in jest that she ate nothing but meat, and her penchant for leather goods is well-known. She's been quoted as stating, "When other little girls wanted to be ballet dancers, I kind of wanted to be a vampire," and, "Before I die, I wanna taste everyone in the world." Feasting on giraffe tongue and monkey tartare seems well within the realm of possibility for Miss Jolie.
Yamamoto suddenly chimes in, "I cook for Ruth Reichl, too." He refers to the influential editor of Gourmet magazine and former New York Times food critic. "I fix her penguin liver pâté, with peppercorn and Armagnac. She stay with me the night and we make love for 15 hour, she love pâté so much. I love her long time. This before I have girlfriend. She say I too controversy to write about. Too controversy!"
The chef lets fly a torrent of Japanese invective that would surely sting my ears if I understood much of it. He stamps the ground and kicks cabinets with his feet in a temper tantrum that lasts several minutes. As his fury subsides, a smile creeps across his face, and he beckons me to follow him into his meat locker, where he stores an array of butchered carcasses that would bewilder the most brilliant of zoologists. It's a sight he's never shared with anyone other than his inner circle. To the rear of the kitchen, behind a thick steel door with keypad lock, is a long, refrigerated room several yards deep and wide, lined with sheet metal. On either side of a pathway down the middle are hung reddish-blue slabs of flesh, everything from bison and mountain lion to gazelle, zebra, gorilla and huge sides of pachyderm. Yamamoto rubs his hands over one slab, gazing upon it as a groom might study his bride in their marriage bed.
"I kill lion on safari in Tanzania," he relates of one skinned carcass. "She guard two cubs, and I kill all three. Cubs we roast for Sultan of Brunei, and the heart of mother lion I barbecue for Donald Trump. I keep body. Maybe make steaks, and stew of rest. Lion not good meat. No fat, but people want to eat, so I hunt them."
Interestingly, lion is another of those creatures that can be hunted, if done so on African reserves. Elephant, too, is in a similar category. But there are a number of carcasses in this illicit icebox that Yamamoto cannot have acquired legally, like those of the gorilla. When I challenge Yamamoto about the ethics of hunting and eating such magnificent creatures, especially ones threatened with extinction, the globetrotting gourmet vigorously defends himself.
"I am, how you say, environmentalist," he insists. "American eat so many cow, pig, lamb, chicken. Raise on farm, fill with antibiotic, slaughter like in Holocaust. Then process meat so it have no taste, and fill with chemical. I don't do this. I hunt one by one, like American Indian. Use whole animal from wild. Everything very natural. Game better for you. More healthy.
"People from PETA, how you say -- retards?" continues the chef. "Hunting is very ethical, yes. PETA want everyone vegetarian. But if everyone vegetarian, world have too many animal, and animal eat human. What you want? Human die or animal die?"
Yamamoto has a point. PETA does seem extreme in its dictates at times. I called PETA's national office in Norfolk, Virginia, to get its response to the chef's statement, but never received a call back from its representative. E-mails to its preachy Web site at www.PETA.com also garnered no reply.
Not that everyone can afford to eat like Yamamoto's clients, but if we could, the processed meat in our diet would be replaced by leaner wild game flesh. And according to both the FDA and private pro-hunting organizations such as Hunting for Tomorrow (www.huntingfortomorrow.com), game offers better-tasting viands that are lower in saturated fat and calories, but higher in content of EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, and omega 3 fatty acid, believed to reduce hardening of the arteries and the likelihood of strokes.