Friday, August 26

JPOP SUMMIT 2016 - Interview with Chef Tasuo Saito and Yu Hayami of Dining with the Chef

During the JPop Summit 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Tasuo Saito of Japanese NHK Broadcasting's popular show, Dining with the ChefThe program is in its 5th year. Chef Saito's beautiful cohost, Yu Hayami, is a singer/actress and started participating in the show 3 years ago. The goal of the show is to convey Japanese cuisine and culture outside of Japan. Chef Saito teaches authentic cooking using ingredients and methods that are professional but he makes it look easy.

At 27, Chef Saito worked at the Japanese Embassy in France. This experience triggered him to show appreciation through his cuisine. Dining with the Chef is an opportunity for him to show that appreciation and spread the food through the world. In Japan, people go to restaurants to eat good food and enjoy the environment. You may also drink sake when you go out which pairs better with saltier food so restaurants make food saltier. Whereas, When you cook food at home, you have to think of economy, cost of ingredients, etc. But home food can be healthy and balanced. Some of the dishes Chef Saito wants to introduce to the world is Japanese comfort food (mama's food), for example, nikujaga (potatoes, onions, and meat stewed in sweetened soy sauce). Earlier in the summit, he had done an easy version of pork with ginger soy sauce marinade, a dish that typically has a variety of different ingredients in the marinade. Chef used ginger ale for a quick and easy version which tasted just as delicious as the original. 

Presentation, technique, or flavor are equally important in Japanese cuisine. For example, Japan is the only country where you put the chopstick horizontally across the top of your place setting, and bring the bowls up to your mouth. There are 5 ways of cooking: fried, stir fried, boiled, steamed, raw. Traditional dishes have 5 colors: red, green, blue, white, black. Examples of common black colored food are shiitake mushrooms, nori, black mushrooms, black beans, and black rice. There are 7 different tastes, sweet, salty, spicy, savory, sour, bitter, and umami can be combined together for a complex dish.

Presentation is probably the biggest change in Japanese cuisine over the last decade. Young chefs are getting inspired by Asian fusion and bringing it back to Japan in the form of creative presentations. Fifteen years ago, it was more popular to have family style meals, and now the family size is smaller so individual portions have become more popular. Chef Saito believes that what we see as Japanese fusion is closer to the traditional way presentations. Japanese cuisine used to have 7 or 9 courses with a variety of small dishes as we often see now with contemporary Japanese dining. Chef Saito vividly remembers a fish teriyaki dish he had in Washinton DC 2 years ago. The presentation was different with edible flowers and was a little bit spicy. He thought it was very impressive because the base of the traditional dish was the same but the condiments were different. The organic movement is also coming up in Japan. Farm-to-table has been alive in Japan but is picking up more steam now as it reaches global popularity.

His advice to aspiring chefs who want to specialize in Japanese cuisine is to watch their show on NHK World. Just kidding. Instead, chefs should really emphasize basic skills. If you can do the basics, you can use your inspiration to do anything else. Mastering basics takes at least 3 years. Be able to explain what you made with your own words. Think about the person eating, be able to explain why you want to serve something a certain way to that specific person. The word kanji character for the word eat in Japanese, taberu, has "good" inside the "house" so eating means "good inside the house" or "people with good" meaning meeting with people is a good thing. Chefs should keep these things in mind as they hone their craft.

During my interview with Chef Saito and Yu Hayami, I noted that the landscape of Japanese food in Japan seems very similar to that in America. People seem to eat out for the same reasons and to enjoy comfort foods for the same reasons as we do here. As Food Network and cooking shows like Master Chef occupy a regular time slot in household televisions, does Japan see its chefs rising to the same celebrity status? His co-host proudly proclaims that Chef Saito is among the most popular with his energetic character. Although in general, Japanese chefs are very serious as they present a traditionally serious cuisine.

Gender roles in the culinary world seem to have the same challenges as in America for female chefs. Japan is still fairly traditional in their view of gender roles for women as home cooks so on TV there are more female chefs but fewer internationally award winning chefs (Michelin, James Beard) female chefs. We often see more women excel as pastry chefs than executive chefs. Chef Saito believes different inspirations between men and women and hopes to see more female chefs on the horizon.

If the clip below of Dining with the Chef where he makes chicken wing karaage entices you to travel to Japan, Chef Saito's tip is to go to specialty stores not general restaurants. Also, tempura in Japan is light and fresh and very different from tempura in America. A definite must have in Japan.

*The preceding article was based on an interview with Chef Saito and Yu Hayami with help of a translator. Both co-hosts' answers through the translator were interwoven into this article and is not verbatim.*

Wednesday, August 17

J Pop Summit 2016 - San Francisco

Every year, fans of Japanese culture are delighted by the JPOP Summit, which is a festival of all things Japanese. Events can last all week (film screenings) but the bulk of activities is on one weekend. Last month, I attended one day of the event to sample the foods offered there. 

The tasting started with an introduction of the 5 ramen vendors.

Iza Ramen: Started as a pop-up in Lower Haight. They specialize in tsukemen (dipping ramen).
Naruto Ramen: This brand from NY sticks to the classic tonkotsu broth cooked for 24 hours.
Hinodeya Ramen Bar: Specializes in the bonito broth which is popular in Japan.
Orenchi Beyond - This restaurant is located in San Francisco and is from the same owners at Orenchi in Santa Clara.
Ramen Taka: This brand from Santa Clara has a menu that covers various regions of Japan.

My tsukemen ramen from Iza Ramen came in this very convenient tray. The broth was rich and thicker than the noodle soup form. It coated the chewy noodles well and I got a mouthful of flavor with each bite.

Our next step was to Shige Sushi for their triangular shaped sushi-wich. Shige has a brick and mortar store but they also sell at events like this. There were four flavors: Alaskan, spicy tuna, California, and natto with kimchi. 

The flavor of the natto wasn't so bad but the texture is slimy. I couldn't finish it. Natto is definitely an acquired taste. 

The California tastes just like a California roll.

Here's the spicy tuna wich that I didn't get to try. Looks yummy.

Next up was takoyaki from Hirotako, a catering company specializing in Japanese cuisine. Their fried takoyaki balls were crispy and flavorful with some pieces having pickled red ginger inside.

Sapporo samples were also being handed out. I helped myself to some. ;)

Inside the pavilion, we did a quick tasting of Iichiko shochu in ume (plum) and yuzu citrus flavors. It was very light and fruity and doesn't need mixing although you can mix it with other fruit juices. Shochu is different than Korean soju. It can be distilled only once while soju is distilled multiple times. Korean soju is also lower in alcohol content. The Iichiko was much easier to sip than Korean soju though.

Coming up next, a recap of my interview with Chef Tsuo Saito of popular Japanese NHK broadcasting network cooking show, Dining with the Chef. His beautiful cohost was Japanese celebrity Yu Hayami.

Thursday, August 4

Gordon Biersch Debuts New Beer and Food Pairing Guide


- Guide designed to teach craft beer lovers the essentials of coupling beer and food flavors -

Gordon Biersch, the brewery restaurant specializing in handcrafted lagers and ales brewed in-house, recently unveiled an easy-to-follow beer and food pairings guide designed to help guests learn more about the brand’s five different beer styles and the flavors that perfectly complement each. Available now through August 28 at restaurants nationwide, craft beer fanatics can turn up the heat on their summer fun and enhance their dining experience by creating the ideal beer and food match with the help of this informational menu tool. The guide includes a descriptive infographic with beer and food icons to make the pairing process interactive, educational and simple.

“At Gordon Biersch, we pride ourselves on being a leader among beer-centric restaurants in the industry today, and have set ourselves apart by brewing on-site exceptionally unique lagers and ales that keep our guests coming back for more,” said Tom Dargen, Senior Director of Brewery Operations at Gordon Biersch. “We’re excited to debut our new beer and food pairings guide, which will enhance the dining experience for our guests and offer them insight into the Gordon Biersch brewing process and our signature flavor-packed brews. We look forward to welcoming craft beer lovers to try out this new resource, as well as showcasing the diverse intricacies of our local head brewers’ beer creations at restaurants nationwide.”

As part of the beer and food pairings guide roll out, Gordon Biersch restaurants throughout the country will feature a selection of craft beers brewed on-site by local head brewers. All of the restaurant’s head brewers develop a unique beer in each of the featured beer styles on-site for guests to enjoy. At the start of each meal, guests are encouraged to preview the pairings menu to enhance their experience with styles including:

Hoppy – A beer style that balances out spicy foods and helps emphasize specific flavors in dishes, which creates an ideal combination with spicy meals, pork, poultry and burgers. This flavor can be paired well with Gordon Biersch favorites including Southwest Egg Rolls, Marzen BBQ Chicken Sandwich and Spicy Chicken Fritters.

Fruity & Spicy – This style of beer complements and balances flavors similar to notes in the beer, such as those found in poultry, salads, seafood and flatbreads. Guests can pair their Fruity & Spicy brews with selections such as the Blue Crab & Artichoke Dip, Cali Beach Taco and California Cobb Flatbread.

Light & Refreshing – Select this type of beer style when looking for a refreshing craft beer that will cleanse the palate and will also complement lighter dishes. The chef recommends matching this style of beer with Gordon Biersch menu items such as the Cajun Pasta and the Gorgonzola Pear Salad.

Malty – Fans of roasted, grilled and smoked foods should sample this style of beer, which will give another layer of flavor to the dish. Ideal menu items to be paired with Malty beers include the Gordon Biersch Beer & Mushroom Chicken and the Gastro Burger.

Dark – This style of beer best complements chocolate and other sweet flavors, as well as meat dishes such as Gordon Biersch’s 10 oz. USDA Top Sirloin and the fan-favorite Brownie Sundae.

For additional details about Gordon Biersch or to find a location near you, please visit

Tuesday, August 2

Events, Openings, and Announcements - August 2016

Off the Grid: Evergreen Moves to a Monthly Extravaganza
San Jose Event Will Focus More on Community Involvement 

 Off the Grid is excited to announce a new, improved format for the San Jose @ Evergreen Village Square lunch event. The event currently takes place every Saturday afternoon and will become a monthly food truck festival beginning Saturday, August 6, 2016 and occurring the first Saturday of the month thereafter.

This larger-scale, monthly event at Off the Grid: San Jose @ Evergreen Village Square will introduce a number of exciting elements, including a wide variety of food trucks, curated live music performances, and onsite activities.  By changing the schedule to occur once a month, Off the Grid will be able to dedicate more time and resources to create an enhanced guest experience in a festival atmosphere. Along with face painting and children’s activities, Off the Grid hopes to provide a stage for local school bands and performers, giving them a space to showcase their talents.

Saturday, July 30 will mark the last weekly iteration of the Evergreen market and prospective guests are encouraged to RSVP to the August 6 event opening on Facebook. Off the Grid will be posting updates on vendors, entertainment, and performers leading up to each month’s festival.

Off the Grid: Evergreen
4075 Evergreen Village Square
San Jose, CA, 95135

Saturday, August 6, 2016 (and the first Saturday of every month thereafter)
Time: 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Manresa Bread Los Gatos Adds Outdoor Café Seating and Full Beverage Program Including Espresso Bar

One month after opening its second location in Los Altos, CA,  Manresa Bread announces the expansion of its original bakery in Los Gatos. Slated to debut in August, Manresa Bread adds 200 square feet to the retail space, a full-service coffee and beverage program, and dedicated seating area at the 276 N. Santa Cruz Avenue location.

“Our guests have been asking for these changes for quite some time. We are excited we’re in a position now where we can expand into the adjacent space and offer an experience that’s more than just grab-and-go,” says Partner and Head Baker Avery Ruzicka.

Aevan Balan joins the Manresa Bread team as Lead Barista for the coffee program, which features Santa Cruz-based Verve Coffee Roasters. A Bay Area native, Aevan first learned about coffee when he started working at Yahoo as a Lead Barista and Mentor as a way to make ends meet while going to college.  He later became a Coffee Specialist at Yahoo, working exclusively with Verve Coffee Roasters, training directly with the Verve team. He was most recently a Lead Barista with Blue Bottle Coffee Company in Palo Alto and a Café Manager at Kartma Street Café, a work-experience program that employs homeless men and women while paying a living wage.

The new coffee program, in partnership with Santa Cruz-based Verve Coffee Roasters, includes espresso drinks, fresh brewed coffee, and cold brew. Guests can also enjoy hot chocolate, Chico Chai Tea out of Chico, California, and kefir on tap.

The look and feel of the newly added space mirrors the classic and modern vibe of the original, created in partnership with San Francisco-based Robert van Horne. A larger counter area means Manresa Bread can display a wider selection of pastries and breads throughout the day and newly added outdoor tables and seating for half a dozen invite guests to linger over a cup of coffee or a pastry.

Manresa Bread Los Gatos is located at 276 N. Santa Cruz Avenue and is open from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. daily.  A second retail space is located at 271 State Street in downtown Los Altos and Manresa Bread is also available at the Campbell and Palo Alto farmers’ market on Sundays and the Portola Valley market on Thursdays. Manresa Bread pastries are featured at Verve Coffee Roasters locations in Santa Cruz, CA.

Boudin Heats Up Summer with New BBQ Pork Menu Items
Boudin Fast Casual Restaurants Serves Up Seasonal Sandwiches and Salad for a Limited Time

Inspired by the flavors of a summertime backyard barbecue, Boudin, home of The Original San Francisco Sourdough™, has introduced three new menu items featuring perfectly seasoned, seared and slow-roasted BBQ pork. The limited time seasonal offerings, available beginning July 27 at all Boudin SF locations, which offer a unique fast-casual dining experience serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, include:

Classic BBQ Pork Sandwich: Slow-roasted and hand-pulled pork tossed in sweet and savory barbecue sauce topped with crunchy house made coleslaw, served hot on a garlic-buttered, toasted sourdough baguette ($9.29)


Aloha Pork Sandwich:  Slow-roasted and hand-pulled pork slathered with an island-inspired ginger soy barbecue sauce featuring a hint of honey, topped with house-made caramelized pineapple, tangy pickled red onion, and fresh-chopped cilantro, served hot on a garlic-buttered, toasted sourdough baguette ($9.49)

Luau Pork Salad: A mix of spring greens and cabbage topped with warm, slow-roasted pulled pork tossed in ginger soy barbecue, caramelized pineapple and tangy pickled red onion made in house, fresh-chopped cilantro, crunchy red bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, and toasted almonds served with a zesty ginger soy barbecue vinaigrette ($10.29)


“Our new menu additions capture the spirit of the summer season by combining tender, succulent, and slow-roasted pork shoulder with the perfect balance of savory, sweet and zesty barbecue flavors,” said Alan Skversky, Boudin Bakery’s corporate chef. “Featuring a fresh mix of house-made ingredients, like our crunchy coleslaw, caramelized pineapple and pickled red onion, each menu item delivers a bright taste of summer while also complementing our world-famous, fresh baked sourdough bread.”

Available at all Boudin SF locations in Northern and Southern California, the new BBQ Pork menu items can be enjoyed in the restaurant or at the convenience of take-out. Boudin SF will also offer house-made coleslaw as an add-on side option for $2.99 for a limited time. Additionally, Boudin SF’s Cobb Salad will be returning to the menu by popular demand. Click here to find your nearest Boudin location.

Friday, July 29

Forge Garden Tour - Santa Clara University - Santa Clara

Last month, I attended an event for Santa Clara University Alumni at the campus garden. We took a tour of The Forge Garden which is one block off campus then had a mozzarella making workshop after. The price of admission was $10 and came with a tour, cheese workshop, wine and beer, and snacks. Santa Clara University makes its own wine called Mission Wine and proceeds help fund scholarships to the students.

Mission Wine Collection is sold on VinoShipper if you're interested in purchasing. I tasted the Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon, they're quite nice and mellow.

In the middle of the garden is a house that is used as the office. The house was built by civil engineering students entering in a previous year's competition for the most sustainable house. There are solar panels on the roof and parts of the insulation was made with recycled denim!

For a video version of this post, watch this Youtube video.

Certain beds at the Forge Garden are used for experiments in farming or agricultural technology. Other harvested items are sold at the weekly farm stand in front of the garden. Tours like this one were also given regularly. There is a chicken coop at the corner of the garden and the chickens roam freely. Their eggs are not sold at the farm stand as there isn't enough to supply the demand. Instead, the eggs are donated to partnering elementary schools where they are used in cooking demos for the children. All compostable waste is put in a compost area to be used later.

Our mozzarella class started with pouring Straus Family milk into pots and heating up to a certain temperature while stirring. Citric acid and Rennet are added.

Then the whey is separated from the curds by straining.

All the curds are formed into a ball which is heated more, stretched, and heated again.

Our instructor was helping to stretch ours but it was still hard so we had to heat the ball again.

Finally, whoa la! Fresh pulled mozzarella with vine ripened tomatoes from the garden and balsamic vinegar. My son's little baby hand trying to reach for a bite. Mozzarella making was fun and interesting. It sounds easy as I simplified the directions above but its actually very laborious. Its hard to get the soft pillowy texture. Forget about how they make burrata, that creamy consistency must be very difficult to achieve. Now I know why fresh mozzarella balls cost so much!

Whole Foods Market Preview Opening - Santa Clara

The new Santa Clara Square complex has been much anticipated as I've driven by their construction site daily. This week, Whole Foods and a few other retailers had their grand opening to officially open the Square for business. The following photos and video are a blend of shots from my iPhone, Canon Powershot, and Whole Foods' promotional photos. They cover the media preview event and grand opening day which my husband went to.

Colin bear did not like Sourdough Sam, the Niners mascot, on opening day. But he did like the cheerleaders and getting Dwight Clark's autograph.

For a video version of this post, watch this Youtube video.

Poke by the pound and in-house smoked meats.

Bubbies Mochi from Hawaii

The swanky and spacious Tap Room using refurbished wood from the buildings that sat on this lot before.

Cider and champagne

Farm to table caviar - what does that mean?

Top Chef season 12 finalist, Melissa King, developed 8 new recipes for Whole Foods. Her items can be purchased at the hot bar and salad bar.

The oysters are $0.75 each in the Land & Sea section

You can buy Genji Sushi and Ramen for lunch at the hot food area.

As usual, lots of gluten free and vegan options in their bakery. And also this cool cupcake tower.

Sweet dreams are made of cheese.

A sample from their media preview offerings

Whole Foods Market
2732 Augustine Dr, Santa Clara, CA 95054

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