JAPONAIS | Chicago
Twenty-eight-year-old Gene Kato was born in Tokyo and immigrated
to the US with his family when he was four years old, settling in
North Carolina. Kato learned the basic skills and techniques of
traditional Japanese cooking from his mother; he found a passion
for the American culinary sensibility from his father, who would
watch John Wayne eating steak in his movies. After receiving his
Culinary Arts degree from Central Piedmont Community College in
Charlotte, Kato apprenticed in Japan, mastering the fundamentals
on which all Japanese cuisine is built – technique and flavor.
Upon returning to the States, Kato worked at Mimosa Grill
in Charlotte and then joined the multi-unit concept Upstream,
based in Charleston, SC. While in the Carolinas, Kato was exposed
to French and Southern cuisine, expanding his knowledge of flavors,
ingredients, and cooking styles. While at Upstream, Kato met Miae
Lim, and the two launched Ohba together. With the success
of Ohba, Lim brought him to Japonais in Chicago.
At Japonais, Kato treats his guests to modern Japanese
cuisine that also reflects his understanding of the American palate.
Hirame (Fluke) Carpaccio
Chef Gene Kato of Japonais – Chicago, IL
Adapted by StarChefs.com
Yield: 6 Servings
Spicy Mirin Dressing:
- 4 cloves garlic, grated on a wasabi grater
- ½ small onion, grated on a wasabi grater
- 3 cups yuzu juice
- 4 cups mirin
- 1/3 cup blended sesame oil
- 3 Tablespoons togarashi spices
- Soy sauce to taste
- 1 (4-ounce) piece fluke sashimi
- 4 pieces hidaka dashi kombu (Japanese brown kelp)
- 3 cups small diced heirloom tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¾ cup sliced chives
- 4 pieces Tokyo negi, ultra-fine julienne (Japanese green onion)
- Freshly shaved bonito
For Spicy Mirin Dressing:
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 24
Cut fluke sashimi style in to very thin pieces. Place each piece
over the kombu. Cover with plastic and marinate in the cooler for
To Assemble and Serve:
Place 5 thin slices of fluke sashimi on a plate. In a separate dish,
place 1 Tablespoon of diced heirloom tomatoes and season with salt,
pepper, and chives. Place in the center on top of the sliced hirame.
Drizzle plate with spicy mirin dressing. Top heirloom tomatoes with
sliced Tokyo negi and shaved bonito.
Pascal Jolivet, Sancerre, France 2004
AB: Are there any secret
ingredients that you especially like?
GK: I use sake so much, for
almost everything – it’s a great medium. It’s
a tenderizer, a flavor enhancer. When you burn off the excess alcohol,
it balances out flavors.
AB: What is your most indispensable
GK: Knives – without
them I can’t do my artwork.
AB: Is there a culinary technique
that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
GK: For the cheese puff, I
take tofu and high quality mozzarella. The combo is 60% tofu, 40%
cheese. I bind them together and now I have a lighter, healthier
cheese, and it doesn’t separate.
AB: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
GK: What do you think characterizes
great food? You can see their mentality, what they think is important.
It’s a good way to evaluate mentally where they are.
AB: What tips would you offer
young chefs just getting started?
GK: Know the basics of your
cuisine really, really well. That way, you can create anything.
Get the most out of every chef you work with. Understand their vision
and where their ideas come from. Then you can create your own vision.
AB: What places do you like
for culinary travel?
GK: I’m going back to
Japan to get back in touch with traditional tastes and flavors.
I’d love to go to Spain and France – I’ve never
AB: What are your favorite
restaurants –off the beaten path – in Chicago?
GK: Cho Sun OK – it’s
Korean. They do sliced beef on the stone, and they have the best
AB: Where do you see yourself
in 5 to 10 years?
GK: In Las Vegas and New York
with this group – I’m a partner. Also with a cookbook
on modern Japanese cuisine. And I”d like to start my own restaurant.
It would be omakase style, a 20-seat restaurant, in the middle of
a Japanese tea garden, like in Golden Gate Park, very Zen-like.
There would be sushi, a robata grill, steamed fish, and drinks!