BlackBook Exclusive: Interview With Chef Masaharu Morimoto + Sweet Potato Tempura Recipe

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 (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

 

This year’s New York City Wine & Food Festival, of course, brought the usual Food Network faces and stellar chefs to the table. The events were bigger and bolder, from Rev Run’s Flashback performance to a rambunctious drag brunch hosted by Countess Luann de Lessops.

None were as stunning, though, as the jaw-dropping display that was Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Rock & Roll Sushi, where the Iron Chef champion expertly filleted a 130-pound tuna worth $3,200. Trained at Nobu and now a pinnacle of contemporary Japanese cuisine in America, his first New York restaurant, Morimoto, opened in 2006, and is still a sublime synthesis of quality ingredients, attention to detail, impeccable technique and sleek, minimalist design.

While a large number of restaurants fail within the first year, Morimoto has lasted in NYC this long because, in the chef’s own words, “people are so adventurous and eager to try new things and new places; but they also love going back to the classics. And I think New York is great in that way, there is always a mix of new, unique and traditional foods to eat.”

 

Morimoto NYC

 

What seasonal or traditional foods is he serving this fall? “I have always asked my chefs to use seasonal products, and especially fish this time of year – including sanma, nodoguro and kan-saba. They are very rich and full of fatty acids and just delicious.”

Trends come and go but despite the pumpkin spice craze, traditional Japanese cuisine has a long-term love affair with the bright orange squash. “We cook pumpkin in a variety of ways including tempura, in soup and also a simmered dish called nimono. Though I don’t think there is one food booming at this moment.”

While the former Iron Chef star is, undoubtedly, a master at his craft, he isn’t afraid to shake it up in his professional or personal life. The self-proclaimed karaoke enthusiast often takes his chefs out to celebrate because, “everyone can have a good time and sing together. It’s especially fun after a beer or two because it takes away all of the nerves and you can really sing from the soul!”

 

 

With Michelin starred restaurants in Tokyo, Mumbai, Hawaii, Napa and Disney World, The Signature Series of Rogue Ales, and his flagship Philadelphia and Chelsea (NYC) restaurants going strong, how involved is the chef with new ventures? “I work with the team on all menu development, design and overall vision for what we are trying to accomplish.”

He laughs, “that way my management and culinary team can inherit my Morimoto DNA!”

For a snippet of that signature DNA, Chef Morimoto has shared a classic recipe with just the right amount of twists – his signature fusion of contemporary and traditional.

 

 (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

 

Morimoto’s Sweet Potatoes Tempura

  • Sweet potato:  Clean sweet potatoes thoroughly.  Place in aluminum foil with a small amount of olive oil and salt on the skin.  Close aluminum foil tightly.  Roast at 275 degrees for 3 hours.
  • Tempura Batter:  Start with 1 qt ice cold soda water. Add 1 egg.  Add ½ qt tempura flour to the soda water and mix in figure 8 until the batter is barely mixed.
  • The batter should be thin, but thick enough to barely coat a spoon.
  • Mushroom Soy:  1qt tamari, 1qt light soy, 1qt dried shiitakes, and 2 bu scallions.  Simmer shiitakes and scallions in the tamari and light soy for 1 hour.  Let cool and then strain.
  • Brown Butter: Brown some butter in a pan by adding 2 tbsps at medium heat until the butter smells like caramel.
When the potato is cooked it should be dredged in tempura flour, try to not have too much stick, lightly battered in tempura flour and deep fried in vegetable oil at 375 degrees.
After a light golden crust has formed potato should be seasoned with a healthy amount of kosher salt and allowed to cool slightly.
At the bottom of a plate…
3 tbsp of the mushroom soy and 1 tbsp of the brown butter should be placed.
Cut the tempura sweet potato carefully into 4 pieces and place flesh side down into the sauce.
Add seasonal greens for preference.