Growing up with my Bacha
It is easy to get caught up in everyday life. We don’t get or take enough chances to do something different or “stray away from the pack”. About a month ago, I was given the chance to do exactly that. Trust me, I will always love flipping steaks and grilling asparagus, but now it’s time to get out the wok. I have the privilege of cooking at the Chef’s Table in Zazios on January 24th. My chef Jud McMichael and I will be serving a five course Asian inspired dinner.
Aside from Jud’s strong love for Asian fare, Japanese food was part of my childhood. I was the kid who taught my kindergarten class how to use chop sticks for show and tell. The same one who had a rice cooker in his dorm room. My grandmother, Shuko Kuwahara, was born in the beautiful city of Nara, the capital to the Kensai region of Japan. She met my grandfather, Richard Philips, during the Korean War while working as a translator at the military base where he was stationed. An American M.P. was hassling Shuko one day, and my grandfather, a robust and kind man, came to the rescue. They were married shortly after and she moved to the states in 1951. They raised two laudable children and influenced all four of their grandchildren heavily.
I will never forget the meals she cooked for us. The captivating smell as you approached their house. The sound of her washing her hands in the kitchen sink as we walked in the front door. The feeling of her small and welcoming arms in the greeting that followed. She was an artist for occupation and that didn’t change in the kitchen. She cooked with such finesse; washing her rice meticulously and chilling the spinach in such a specific way, her delicate hands flipping teppanyaki with chop sticks or drying tempura over paper towel. Delicious inari sushi was a staple along with small Japanese donuts, regardless of the fastidious process to make them. She advanced her grandchildren’s palettes at a young age. More so, she taught us to appreciate dining together around a table of beautiful food as a family, and for that I will be forever grateful.
As a cook now, I look back and regret the things I didn’t learn from her. It couldn’t be more true that “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. She was a culinary mecca, filled with advanced knowledge of process and an understanding of food that I may never reach. All I physically have are some simple recipes, most of which are in Japanese, but more importantly, I have vivid memories. I’m going to recreate some of her classic dishes as well as debut a few of my own, but all deriving from the flavors entrenched in those memories. Come dine with us later this month, and taste a piece of inspiration that Shuko left behind.
Lead Line Cook