This is part two of my interview with Nobuo Fukuda, chef-owner of Nobuo at Teeter House. If you missed part one, where Nobuo explained what he misses about Japan and the difference between an American and a Japanese chef, read it here.
Favorite places to dine in Phoenix: Pho43, because, in my opinion, they have the best pho in town. And Lee's sandwiches, because it's a quick, fresh option with delicious pastries and a Vietnamese twist.
National/international chef you admire: Toshio Tanahashi "Geshinkyo" is a shojinryori chef who makes healthy, beautiful, and flavorful vegetarian food. He told me, "Most people eat food from the neck up (which means they care about appearance, aromas, and flavors), but I want to make food that people eat from the neck up and also from the neck down." He does everything himself: cleaning his small dining room, which seats about 12 at tables and six at the counter. He does the flower arrangements, lights the incense and cooks everything himself, so that's his "gochisou," which means loosely translates as "delicious" in Japanese but actual means "running around" or "making an effort." So I love his philosophy.
Who's doing the most interesting Japanese food in the U.S. and what makes it so good?: Urasawa in L.A.. He offers super-high-quality sushi and the kaiseki experience without intimidating people. Hiro is so friendly that he makes everyone very comfortable.
When people in Japan eat sushi, one of the first things they often comment on is the rice. Why?: Rice is actually the main focus of sushi. It's used as the sauce for the fish.
How has sushi changed since you worked at Yamakasa?: More variety of rolls that veer from the traditional style. America now has has its own style of sushi.
You started your cooking career at Benihana. What did you take away from that experience?: I learned that people are more about the experience of dining. It has to be memorable.
Do you consider a sushi roll with cream cheese in it to be sushi?: I think that American sushi can be subjective. It seems to be changing to something more fun with modernized options. And that's fine, as long as everyone know that there are so many different kind of sushi out there: funazushi (for preserving fish), oshizushi (Osaka-style pressed sushi, where the fish is cooked and the rice has a sweeter flavor), chirashizushi (many varieties of raw fish atop a bowl of sushi rice), gomokuzushi (homemade, mostly cooked veggies and egg), edomaezushi (which is the sushi Americans are most familiar with).
How do you evaluate sushi?: I always evaluate the rice first. It has to be cooked perfectly with the proper seasoning and temperatures; the size [of the rice pad] has to be balanced with each piece of fish, not too tight nigiri or sushi rolls, and there should be enough air between the rice, And how to prepare each fish -- some cooked, some seasoned. I look at seaweed quality, how it's been toasted, the flavor of the gari (pickled ginger), which shouldn't be too sweet or too salty. I pay attention to the soy sauce, which might be different for different kinds of fish and also what kind of wasabi is used. It's so much!
What do most American customers not understand about sushi?: That it's about the balance between the rice and fish. This is the main focus. It's not all about the fish. And too much wasabi and soy dipping covers up the other flavors. Also there is such a thing as fish that's "too fresh." The freshest is not necessarily the best because each fish has different maturity time. A good sushi chef knows when each one is at its prime and ready to eat. Let's watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi before going to the sushi bar. You might have a different sushi experience!
What would you like to tell customers about Japanese food but never do?: Don't add extra flavor to it because so much thought has already gone into that. It's like subtraction cooking.
How would you describe the food at Nobuo at Teeter House? East Meets West? Modern Japanese? Japanese Fusion?: I'm not sure, maybe none of these labels, I do East meet West, but I also do East meets East. I do modern-style but traditional, too. I don't want to call it fusion, either. I try to focus on local ingredients as much as possible, but that's difficult. Can we call it "interesting Japanese food?"
Has your mother eaten your food? And what does she think of it?: Yes, she has. She thought it was different, but she enjoyed it. She is very open to food (maybe that's where I get it from).
Favorite thing to eat growing up: Shoyu ramen.
Favorite thing to eat now: Shio ramen.
What would you put on the menu if you thought people would eat it?: Horumonyaki (beef intestine), fish eyeball, and seseri (chicken neck meat).
Last meal on Earth -- what would it be?: Horumonyaki (marinated and grilled beef intestines).
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You have been known to call Shinji Kurita your mentor and master. What did you learn from him?: Discipline. Each dish you serve has to be perfect.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Vincent Guerithault of Vincent on Camelback, Vincent's Market Bistroc Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Jacques Qualin of J&G Steakhouse Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Matt Pool of Matt's Big Breakfast Jared Porter of The Parlor Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White Jr. of Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco, Pane Bianco and Trattoria Bianco Ehren Litzenberger of BLD Matt Taylor of Market Street Kitchen Kelly Fletcher of House of Tricks Jeremy Pacheco of Lon's Michael O'Dowd of Renegade by MOD Gio Osso of Virtu Honest Craft