Yesterday we sat down to chat with Executive Chef Jason Alford of Scottsdale's Roka Akor. Today he talks shop and explains the meaning of "omakase" and "shochu" and comments on his recent collaboration with Chef Nobuo Fukada of Nobuo at Teeter House.
How did the event with Chef Fukuda go?
When Nobu and I first got together for the dinner on dinner, I was thinking like, "It's probably going to be thirty people only. It's going to be small." And I called his wife three days before the event and I was like, "We're at 120 [people]..." and she was like, "Hold on... He's freaking out." But that night was awesome. So [I think] we're going to do another one.
What is shochu for those who don't know?
Shochu...I'll describe the flavor as like vodka, like a really mild vodka. But when you're drinking it, it doesn't taste like vodka. It's really clear, refined, distilled Japanese spirit and we used to have a bar manager that did all our infusions but all our chefs do it now--we do all house infusions. So we like, have competitions of who can do the best infusions. You can have one taste almost like a whiskey and they you can put it in casks so it takes on the flavor of the wood... [It's pretty popular] in London and all over Europe and...well, everywhere else besides America.
How would you explain what an omakase experience is like?
Well, I had a couple come in from San Francisco last night. That sat down and the first thing they said was, "We're really picky." So you know, I said, "You guys should out your menus down, order drinks and just let me take care of your menu"--omakase, basically they should trust me.
We do unique things, like a tuna flight. People are like, "I thought there was only one cut?" Well, no there are actually four. They start from the fatty part and go all the way down and we serve it on ice blocks... I gotta say, we're far, far, far from traditional. I mean we have some traditional items, some of our staples--they aren't Japanese at all, but it's really, really, really good.
How do you, or any chef, become confident and prepared enough to execute something like that?
I think the simplest way to put it is by connecting your tongue to your brain. My thing is if you have a good attitude for the most part, you're coachable, receptive, and aware [you'll be successful.] I mean, the people that work with me aren't here for money; I'm not here for money.
I think with ingredients and food, and especially raw ingredients and nutrients for your body--people are always like, ""Oh, I'm sick." Well you're eating cheeseburgers and drinking soda all day. I don't exercise as much as I used to and I drink a little bit, so I counteract that with good food. So yeah, I think it started with my parents. That was my seed with them.
When you were first starting as a chef did you enivision yourself doing this kind of cuisine?
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No, I was more thinking like French bistro: mussels and tons and tons of white wine and garlic. That's the coolest thing here is I have no cheese in my walk-in, I have two sticks of butter and it's a challenge created amazing food and an experience without all that [fat.] The thing is if you leave here full, you're full but you don't feel bad.
Tomorrow we'll share Chef Alford's recipe for Honey Yuzu dressing from the Roka Akor New Year's Eve menu.