When I first showed up you would have thought it was an ordinary barbecue restaurant. Once I walked into the kitchen, I could see all the awesomeness that was being done in the back of the shop. Ed was prepping some blue fin with a brine as the others start whipping together combinations of their own. As the chefs start prepping their food, they started bouncing ideas off each other as they sorted through the barbecue ingredients they were all limited to using.
As wives, friends and children start spoon testing the food, the chefs starts sprinkling ingredients in to their mixing bowls and finding inspiration from each other. It starts to feel like something special is taking place. It feels like we are in a back alley at night, spray painting with food, using colors that have never been mixed before.
This was taking chefs out of their natural environment and adding the element of spontaneity. It has always been my dream to have a restaurant that sourced its own local meat and featured a different chef every week - inviting people from around the world to really push that creative element without money or superiors being the driving force. Letting the passion be the key ingredient in every dish.
Each one of these chefs has just finished a full day of work so being able to come here and experiment is bringing out their best. As the dishes started to take shape my taste buds start to get blown away. I get a chance to talk with Ed Arai to see what it is like to fuse barbecue and sushi.
MEAT ME: What is your culinary background?
Ed Arai: I started off in sushi by accident. I did it for a number of years. I got pretty good at it and I could have made a living doing sushi for the rest of my life but I felt kind of typecast, you know? It was very one-dimensional and I wasn’t fulfilled doing that part of my art. It was great because your in front of people all the time - I’m free styling - I didn’t work off a set menu because the was done by the rest of the guys that worked for me.
I didn’t want to be working behind a bar, partying all the time, I needed to take my job more seriously. Then Wolfgang Puck and his guys scooped me up and I started teaching sushi to his people.
I picked it up really quick and I opened up a few restaurants in LA. I opened up a gastro pub called Angel in Santa Monica. The stylistic aspect was more of a New York gastro pub. Then I went back to sushi briefly and that’s where I got my chops back, because it’s something you have to practice.
Then I got offered to run Katsuya, Hollywood and be their head chef there. The problem was they already had a set menu and I would just be running their restaurant for them. I basically got tired of being a surrogate. I got offered the Disney gig around the same time which I eventually chose because they have fine dining, freedom over the menu, and I could order what ever I want. It was a test kitchen basically. They built a state of the art 1.1 million dollar kitchen. It was any chef’s dream job and, on top of it, you get to work from 7 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday – which is incredible!
Being amongst the living was really important. I worked at night for over 15 years straight. It burned me out not doing normal shit and being resentful that I was on the other end of the party. I had this opportunity and took it.
MEAT ME: So what is your past experience with barbecue?
Ed Arai: Well, I studied a lot of books on cooking with live fire. When I was at my peek with sushi, I met Danny and Rick (Danny’s business partner) when Baby Blues in Venice was just crackin’. We would both go and see each other and that’s how we became friends. In Venice, 3 to 4 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of interesting food for the people; it was more the upper echelon. Danny and Rick are very easy to talk to and get along with so I felt like I was in some kind of crew with those guys. Then they moved on to Hollywood and I moved on to other things.
I studied cooking on live fire at home. I have got a lot of great cooking elements in my kitchen and I learned a lot of barbecue when I redid the Boardner’s menu in Hollywood about 7 years ago. Boardner’s is the second oldest bar in Hollywood. I went in there for about 6 months and did more All American food. I got really familiar with grilling and cooking with fire.
A friend of mine’s mom writes cookbooks for Weber and she got me all these books and I just started reading and reading. We tried to do what I did in the sushi bar with the raw, but cook the same way we did tonight - searing with live fire and dry rub.
I like to take other people’s elements from their kitchen and work them in. It is so easy to do traditional sushi, but it’s a lot more interesting when you can infuse other flavors.
For example - the seared tuna that I did, I wanted to do more of a steak feeling out of it; a red meat kind of taste and manipulate the flavor.
Tuna’s texture is very close to a very tender steak. It’s hearty, rich, and bloody, so that’s what I was thinking tonight. I saw that they already brought in a sushi chef and I had kind of figured that they were going to do tartare kind of stuff. I just wanted to do something completely different and off the cuff.
MEAT ME: Have you ever combined sushi and barbecue before?
Ed Arai: Yeah. I make a lot of my own rubs and sauces. I’ve done a lot with barbecuing eel. I’ve also done a lot of different sweet sauces because barbecue sauce has more of a sweet tomato base to it; to go with sushi. I guess the next step is combining more interesting colors and flavors.
MEAT ME: Would you ever find yourself coming together with a few other chef’s, where the food was provided and you had the opportunity to free style with these other chefs?
Ed Arai: Yeah. I’m always excited to work with other people. That is why I was cool when I saw the other sushi chef. You see what they’re doing and it pushes you to be more creative and spontaneous.
MEAT ME: Would you ever see a barbecue-sushi fusion come out and hit the main stream? Get this concept out of the alleys and into the streets?
Ed Arai: I think so. I think it is a great combination. There are so many different realms to sushi. There is fine dining sushi, mid range sushi, and then the cheap all you can eat sushi. That is the same for barbecue, different types of meat, different grades of meat, different regions. I think it would be an interesting combination if it’s done right.
There is so much you can do with beef sashimi. You can have raw meat and raw fish, and then combining the 2 flavors. A lot of people like combining their Kobe beef with their sushi. That’s nice, but I think it would be a fun challenge to create an entire menu like that.
MEAT ME: Can you walk me through the dish you prepared tonight?
Ed Arai: I realized that the other guys were gonna do things on the fly so I wanted to create something that was a good closer. I wanted take my time and season and grill off the vegetables so it was a hearty, composed salad. For the tuna I let it brine for about 25 minutes or so with kosher salt this is so it absorbs the flavor of the salt and brine into the tuna. I brine my chickens, my tuna - I brine everything! It just tastes so much better. It’s worth that extra 20 to 30 minutes of just letting it soak in the salt.
The salt brine is the closest to saline in human blood and I want to seal in that flavor. Then I took their Baby Blues Beef Rub which I think has brown sugar, cayenne, paprika, and I put in some dried thyme with a few other herbs. It was really heavy so I added some coarse black pepper to give it a little bit more of a spice and then I let the tuna absorb the dry rub for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Then I rolled the fish in olive oil - it was just really making money on the outside, making sure to preserve the flavor of the fish while that flavor comes at you in layers. When you bite into the tuna, first you taste the flavor of the seasoning, you don’t have to use soy sauce or anything because you want it to cook just in its own flavor. Then I just sear it a minute on each side at the most to keep the inside rare. It has the effect of a steak.
After it was cooked, I topped it with a salad dressing that I made. The dressing is almost like your traditional balsamic vinegar with mustard. I was a little limited on my choices. If I had the options I have in my pantry at work it would be a different story. I sometimes do some private cooking in people’s homes and it is interesting to see what people have; making pastas and dressing out of what they have in their pantry.
MEAT ME: That’s very interesting, I have never thought about that.
Ed Arai: It’s like a painting. You have a vision in your head and you want it to be a certain way, but your limited to your supplies and what you have on hand. You just have to make the most of it and it seems like people really liked the way things turn out.
MEAT ME: Yeah! I think the fish was pretty amazing. It was unexpected and at the same time fun and tasty.
Ed Arai: That’s something that I would put on my menu. If I was going to have a special … Everyone has the expectation that tuna is going to be served a certain way. Like soy sauce with wasabi and it’s delicious, but the trick, just like any magician, is surprising people with something they would never expect.
When everyone tasted the fish with the grilled Portobello mixed in with the dish, it really gave it that steak-y effect. That’s exactly what gets me off; seeing people eat and then (you can see it in their eye’s) it’s unexpected but to a different level. It’s not like a predictable “oh it’s supposed to be good”… I like to catch you off guard.
MEAT ME: Yea, if you looked at Danny when he tastes it, I would describe it as “Eye Opening”.
Ed Arai: It’s fun. He gets so animated just like a cartoon character. He was just grabbing the fish off the cutting board and saying “What the fuck? That’s really good!”, and that’s the thrill in cooking. That’s why I love doing this.
Before I came tonight I was having dinner with my boss and she was like, “Why you do you have to go cook somewhere else? Are you trying to go get a job elsewhere?” I was like, “No, you should be glad to have a chef that works for you that enjoys cooking”. I am not doing it to get anything out of it other than seeing people enjoy my art and for me to be creative.
I am pretty whipped tonight. I worked a full day today and yesterday. Last night I did the same thing at Baby Blues BBQ Venice where I did 5 different courses of sushi, sashimi, and salad. I didn’t have the other guys last night, it was so nice to have the other guys there and to be able to enjoy myself, have some cocktails and chit-chat. That’s the hole reason we do these things, right?
MEAT ME: Absolutely.
Ed Arai: I do have that tendency to go to dinner parties and kind of take them over… I didn’t want to do that tonight. I’ll go to a girls house for a party and I’ll be like, “No, no, no girl, you don’t want to cook like that. Let me show you.” Teaching is fun.
If someone can take something away from that evening and show it so someone else with a different interpretation, you have gone beyond your expectations that day.
As exciting as this was for both the chefs and the people who got to experience this tasty art, I think I can get the ball rolling on my dream. With that said if you are interested in partaking in an event like this please contact me meatmeblog(at)gmail.com. I am looking for chefs, cooks, barbecue-ers, pastry chefs, food suppliers and restaurants that would be interested in being apart of such a creative and unique event like this.
As the elements start to come together I will keep you up to date as to where and when the first event will take place, what chefs will be featured, who will be supplying the food, what restaurant will be offering up their space and how you can get tickets.
Break out your hoodies and you food spray cans ‘cause it’s about to get crazy.
Written and Photographed by Sean Rice, Edited by Aaron Black (Meat, Inc.)
Keep it Underground,
Aka MEAT ME