Interview with Chef Mihoko Obunai of Repast - Atlanta

October, 2007

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.

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.