Xtreme Cuisine

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He's so foolhardy and headstrong, I wonder how long it will be before Yamamoto finally becomes a target for law enforcement, whether it's Arizona Game and Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the FBI, or any of another half a dozen state, local and federal agencies who might take an interest in this felonious Bobby Flay. Yamamoto says he keeps his and his girlfriend Alexis' passports current, and they both have packed bags and one-way tickets to Zurich, where they could rent a chalet and have access to Yamamoto's Swiss bank account. He brags of a clandestine network of informants here who will tip him off should the law come gunning for him.

But why did he talk to me for this story? Why give the authorities a heads-up in print, which is what this article will inevitably do? Certainly, what property he holds locally is under fake names, and a phony shell corporation with an offshore mailbox serves as his corporate address. But it's not exactly as if Arizona is overloaded with Asian males, and his face will be published on thousands of New Times covers. There are two answers (besides, of course, his lust for recognition). The first is that Yamamoto may already be planning to set up shop in Europe, where regulations are more lax. And the second is that Yamamoto and I already have a history, having met in Los Angeles, close to five years ago.

The first time I saw Kaz Yamamoto, he was three sheets to the wind, a half-bottle of Cutty Sark (the only Scotch he could afford at the time) in front of him as he sat at the bar at Musso & Frank, one of L.A.'s oldest eateries. A rather happy drunk, he was trying to coach the bartender on the finer points of singing the "Sukiyaki" song in Japanese, much to the old chap's annoyance. When I interrupted Yamamoto to introduce myself, he greeted me like a long-lost friend.

"Lemon-san, I so happy you come! Now I can finally have drink with Fat Man," he intoned in a spray of whiskey breath, then thumping the bar top with one hand. "A drink for Fat Man! A drink for Fat Man!"

The ancient barkeep in red jacket and black tie took my order with a snarl. Though I had slightly less girth then, Yamamoto was not referring to my waistline, but rather to a food column I penned for the now-defunct New Times Los Angeles titled "The Fat Man." It was written through the guise of my alter ego, a Sydney Greenstreet-like character not too far removed from the person I actually am. I had just visited the Japanese-French fusion restaurant Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills and given its executive chef Shigefumi Tachibe a thorough verbal bashing in print. Yamamoto was elated. He had been a line cook for Tachibe for the last three months and hated his employer with a passionate intensity.

"Tachibe-san so mad his face turn red," laughed Yamamoto, as I took my boilermaker and guided us both to a booth where we could order some food and help Kaz soak up some of that Cutty. "He say if you come in there again, he slice you in half with samurai sword. Ha, ha!"

Yamamoto despised Tachibe because he'd given the newcomer a dressing down for a rather minor oversight on his part. Yamamoto vowed revenge from that day forward, but the sting of my notice and the outrage it caused Tachibe seemed to be enough to have Yamamoto overlook his blood oath. I had inflicted a mortal blow by calling Tachibe's vittles "as French as Inspector Clouseau and as Japanese as James Clavell." Yamamoto kept repeating the line throughout the evening, even after the drinking party moved on to other, seedier watering holes.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons