Mike and Chao Crash Worlds of Flavor 2010

After a few days at Fleury, soaking up (literally) Napa life, we decided that we should check out the nearby Worlds of Flavor conference at the Culinary Institute of America. We wouldn’t call it crashing, but we definitely weren’t your typical conference-goers (picture a starstruck, slightly drunk Mike and Chao wandering around like kids in a candy store). Was it necessary that we include both of the photos below? Yes. Completely.

The 13th Annual Worlds of Flavor Conference turned its focus this year to Japan; both huge fans of Japanese cuisine, we were elated. We got the chance to meet, talk to, learn from, and eat with 60 of the finest Japanese chefs and other experts on the food and culinary traditions of Japan (win). Here are our highlights, in no particular order:

1. Ivan Ramen

Pardon the momentary sentimentality, but this guy’s story is definitely the foodie’s version of ‘heartwarming.’ In a sea of Japan’s finest chefs, Ivan Orkin kind of sticks out. Not too often does a Brooklyn-born Jewish guy move to Japan to master the art of ramen–and succeed with flying colors.

Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen. Photo c/o Serious Eats.

The self-professed ramenjunkie is living proof that anything is possible–he now owns two restaurants in Japan and is considered one of the foremost ramen experts. Known to many as Ivan Ramen (the name of his restaurant), Ivan came to the conference with Team Japan and created what was arguably one of the top three dishes of the event.

2. Okonomiyaki

Now this was something that we really hadn’t seen in Chicago… or anywhere else for that matter. Think pancakes, but stuffed with savory/salty ingredients. In other words, the perfect breakfast.

More info: Wikipedia •  No Recipes •  Bento.com

okonomiyaki n. Typically made using pancake batter and a variety of ingredients including vegetables, fish, meat, etc. Often referred to as “Japanese pancakes,” or even “Osaka soul food.”

The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “what you like” or “what you want,” and yaki meaning “grilled” or “cooked.” Anything we want in a pancake on the grill? Yes, please.

3. Meeting Hiroyuki Sakai

We were both pretty awe-struck when we got to meet Chef Hiroyuki Sakai, one of the original Iron Chefs. There are no words to explain how cool this was. Chef Sakai wasn’t presenting or cooking or anything, just hanging out and trying things, you know, no big deal. Keeping it casual. (Also, did you all know he has a MySpace page?)

Chao & Chef Sakai

4. The Ice Smoker

Whoever thought this one up: thank you. We couldn’t imagine of a better way to wrap up the conference than–wait for it–an IRON CHEF CHALLENGE between Masaharu Morimoto and David Chang.

The fact that we were able to be in the presence of both of these chefs was enough for us–but to see them battling? Incredible. Morimoto recreated one of our favorite Iron Chef moments*, part of the Holiday Ice Battle in which Morimoto defeats Bobby Flay… using an ice smoker.

Morimoto preparing dinner for Mike & Chao (…and some other people, too).

We think it was snapper, but we were in a fame/food/sake-induced blackout.

5. How to Make Soba Noodles

Celebrities and knife skills and ingredients aside, this was a testament to ultimate requirement for doing something well: painstaking patience. During this thirty-minute demonstration, one chef highlighted the ins and outs of soba, how its made, the ingredients, and so on, while the second chef stepped patiently on the sheet of uncut noodles… for the entire time…

It’s a practice that ensures the proper distribution of pressure and the right consistency for the noodles. When the demo ended, the soft-stepping chef received a standing ovation and the undying respect of everyone watching.

Final Takeaway

Okay, so here’s the main thing that we walked away (well, flew away) thinking about: In restaurants here, we tend to cook everything (or most things) in-house, and that’s a valued trait–knowing that what you’re eating was made (and sometimes even grown) on the premises. There’s something to be said, however, for the specialized focus of most restaurants in Japan; instead of having the same kitchen staff master ramen, sashimi, sushi, udon, and so on, each restaurant has their focus, their specialty, and as such, they really do master the art of whatever they’re serving/stepping on.

Practices aside, we were blown away by the quality of ingredients, the precision and consistency of the work, and the knife skills–down to the way they cut fish in order to extract different flavors. The attention to detail wasn’t a special quality of certain chefs, it was a standard across the board.

Additional Coverage

Scenes from “Worlds of Flavor” 2010

FoodGal

Iron Chefs Galore at CIA’s Worlds of Flavor Conference

Jay Friedman, SunBreak

Japan’s Star Chefs in America

Yukari Iwatni Kane, Wall Street Journal

What Chefs and Writers Learned at the CIA’s Japanese-Inspired Worlds of Flavor Conference

Paolo Lucchesi, SF Gate

Three Great Techniques from the CIA Conference

Harris Salat, The Japanese Food Report

*Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a video of the Iron Chef episode online–mostly just forums/blog posts where people say things like: “Freaking BRILLIANT” and “ONE OF MORIMOTO’S ICE CARVERS JUST MADE A MEAT SMOKER OUT OF ICE THIS IS INCREDIBLE.” >> If anyone does have a link to a video for this ep, post it as a comment and we’ll give you tons of credit.

4 thoughts on “Mike and Chao Crash Worlds of Flavor 2010”

  1. You guys are a riot. What a fun post. I’m sure I passed you in the marketplace, too. We were probably all jostling for that yummy Japanese noodle pancake. Wasn’t that awesome?

  2. They probably told you this, but there are actually two different kinds of Okonomiyaki: Hiroshima and Osaka. Osaka style is more batter, which makes it thick and filling. Hiroshima style uses less batter and more vegetables. I think the Hiroshima style is better, which surprises everyone in Osaka ;P

  3. By the way, when you’re in Tokyo, check the convenience stores for the Ivan Ramen Instant Ramen Bowl. Was surprised he became wealthy enough to have his own cup noodle!

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