Mihoko Obunai
620 N Glen Iris Dr
Atlanta, GA 30308
(404) 870-8707

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Antoinette Bruno: hen and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Mihoko Obunai: My mom inspired me. I’m from a family of doctors, but my mom still cooked for us, as many of ten dishes a night for my family. My dream was to work for Unicef and I went to New York to pursue that. I traveled to Peru to do field work. I worked there for two years and felt the people couldn’t change their lives. They were happy being poor. I met some backpacking chefs, and they inspired me to pursue my dream of cooking, so I finally ended up at the French Culinary Institute.

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Chef Mihoko Obunai
Repast | Atlanta

Mihoko Obunai grew up in Japan and inherited a passion for cooking from her mother, who regularly cooked ten-course meals for the family. Obunai left Tokyo for New York, where she attended New York University and worked at a small Japanese restaurant called Zutto. After graduating from college she traveled to Peru to work for the Peace Corp; while there she learned Spanish and befriended several chefs, who encouraged her to follow her dream of cooking for a living.

Obunai returned to New York to attend the French Culinary Institute. After graduating, she worked at  La Caravelle, L’Absinthe, Bayard’s, and Guastavino’s with mentor Daniel Orr. In 2005 she opened Repast in Atlanta with husband and co-executive chef Joe Truex. The restaurant is a blend of their styles and philosophies; her Japanese background is evident in the delicate and light flavors of her dashis, sashimis, and daily macrobiotic offerings. Obunai recently earned a certification in macrobiotics from Kushi Institute, and has taught at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta.

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Interview Cont'd
AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
MO: L’Absinthe with Jean-Michel; La Caravelle with Cyril Renaud; Bayard’s; Gustavino with Daneil Orr.

AB: Who are some of your mentors?
MO: I worked for Daniel Orr for three years – he taught me discipline, what it means to work hard, and the value of local and fresh ingredients.

AB: Is there an ingredient you feel is particularly underappreciated or underutilized?
MO: Kelp and dashi – they have a great umami taste.

AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
MO: Sea salt and fish, especially shrimp.

AB: What is your most indispensable cooking tool?
MO: Vitamix- it produces great textures and flavors.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and use in an unusual way?
MO: I cure fish and meat with rice vinegar-soaked kombu. I soak the seaweed in vinegar then wrap it around the protein, then wrap the whole thing in plastic. It preserves freshness without over-marinating, taking the flavor back to the ocean.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
MO: Nobu Now, by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa: the beautiful pictures inspire something inside of me. It’s not typical Japanese food, but still clean, fresh, and simple

AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel?
MO: Asia.

AB: What are your favorite restaurant – off the beaten path – in your city?
MO: Buford Highway has real, real stuff – I go to Pho 96 for their pho.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
MO: You eat to live, so food should stay simple, but I still care about details and personal touches.

AB: Which person in history would you most like to have dinner with? What would you serve?
MO: I want to try Nobu’s food.

AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
MO: I'd be an artist. I love doing pottery and Japanese water color painting.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
MO: In San Francisco.

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   Published: September 2007