Hard Work Tastes Like Miso, A Friday Evening at Hachi ju Hachi

By Savannah Sharrett,
Communications Liaison

For a refreshing, crash-course in what it means to have passion, spend a little time with Chef Suzuki and his team.

Recently, I spent a Friday evening at Hachi ju Hachi, located in downtown Saratoga, CA. Entering the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was a sense of calm to the dimly lit space. Looking in from the front door, the sun light reveals long walls lined with small tables. Straight ahead is a sushi bar with a clear view of the open kitchen.

This understated gem has been open for 8 years and has many loyal, regular customers. Looking up at the ceiling and around the walls, there is clear evidence of appreciation. Written in Sharpie, you’ll find hundreds of comments of praise. Beaming with pride, Owner & Chef, Jin Suzuki says of the walls, “You’ll notice that there is not one celebrity and only ordinary people”. The restaurant is open for regular business hours but every two weeks, the doors close to the general public to host a special sushi night where they invite a small group of people for a carefully curated tasting menu.

From time to time, students from the ICC have had the opportunity to work under the apprenticeship of Chef Suzuki. Currently, you can find two of our alumni working alongside each other in his kitchen. Working under Chef Suzuki’s guidance and training in the art of Japanese Cuisine, EJ, a 2013 culinary graduate and Kristen, a 2016 culinary graduate are cultivating qualities like patience and respect for their craft. There is something to be said about the precision and attention to detail this team of 3 is able to maintain consistency.

In an effort to understand the success of HJH, I asked EJ to share his thoughts on the restaurant’s philosophy on food. He said, “Chef Suzuki is not just a mentor. It is not just food; its philosophy and life. To survive in this kitchen you must have the mindset that this isn’t just food or recipes, it’s a lifestyle. You have to respect that”. He added, “Techniques are done correctly. Make your mistakes but don’t do it again.” In reference to the passion that has grown within him over time, EJ asks himself, “Do you want to cut cucumbers every day? Yes! Do you want to crack eggs every day? Yes! I want to.”

Although they were given a foundation in French Techniques from their schooling at the ICC, I appreciated that both EJ and Kirsten had an ease using Japanese terms. When I asked them if that was a requirement for working at HJH, EJ said, “Learning the proper words shows respect”.  Working with Chef Suzuki has certainly added to their culinary repertoire and given them versatility.

When I had first arrived that evening, EJ had been working on Saba mackerel, preparing them to be marinated at room temperature and then overnight in the fridge. I asked him if there were certain techniques he had especially enjoyed learning at HJH and he mentioned something called San Mai Oroshi– a 3 part technique used to open a fish that results in 2 full fillets with the spine still intact. He was also very proud to show me and let me taste his frozen sweet potato puree that was served like an ice cream.

I then asked Kirsten to share her thoughts on the restaurant’s philosophy. She was quick to say that, “It all starts and ends with respect”. Throughout the evening, I was impressed to hear her call Chef Suzuki, Itacho, which means in Japanese, “head of the cutting board”. Having now worked at HJH for a year, she has gained many new skills from her mentor. She was kind enough to give me a demonstration on the difference between Japanese and French knife techniques. She also mentioned that she was currently learning something called, Katsuramuki. This term refers to the ability to slice a vegetable such as a cucumber or a daikon into one long, thin sheet. For this technique, she was taught to use a Usuba, a “single-bevel knife used for cutting veggies”. Initially feeling like this task was daunting, Kerstin describes the learning process as a practical lesson in discipline and now feels driven to do it every day. She notes that her constant goal is, “doing better than the last time. I did this today and I’ll do it tomorrow”. Comparing her limited year of experience to her mentor, Chef Suzuki, she happily exclaimed, “I’ll meet you there in 30 years”!  Being the newest to the kitchen, Kirsten benefits from the experience of not only Chef Suzuki but also her fellow apprentice, EJ. In regards to her training under both of them, she noted, “They never go easy on me but I know it’s because they care and that in turn makes me care as much as them”.

Even with his 30 years of experience, Chef Suzuki doesn’t hesitate to point out that he is still learning and feels that it is his responsibility to pass on the knowledge he does have. He comments, “Most people are looking for an instant result but cooking isn’t about that.  It takes patience and discipline. The journey is not 6 months, it takes years”. Chef made sure to note that he will never claim to a master chef. Explaining that personal joy is essential, he expresses, “ I just like what I do and that’s enough”.  I asked him how he received his own training and he explained that throughout his early career in Japan, he had 3 different mentors. With that attitude in mind, the ICC is looking forward to hosting Chef Suzuki on our campus this August for a class on the history and usage of miso. (Click here to learn more.

Later that evening, Chef Suzuki asked me to stay for dinner and was very generous. I left the restaurant that evening feeling peaceful and energized. If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, Hachi ju Hachi should definitely be on your itinerary.

 

 

 

5 Ways Food Can Help The Environment

Written by Kaya Daniels
California Campus, Professional Culinary Arts Student

I’ve only been in culinary school for four months, and I’ve already learned so much. Training with some of the most amazing chefs has taught me not only pristine cooking skills but also some unforgettable life skills. I’ve learned how to be a better chef, student, and overall person. As days go by, I’m beginning to realize the impact my peers and I make on the planet just by the way we cook in the kitchen. You wouldn’t believe how much one wastes until you realize what all you can make out of a single vegetable.

Although it is to be considered a new trend, sustainability and nutrition are very important to not only cooking but our planet as a whole. Knowing what you are taking out of the environment is essential to creating delicious dishes but knowing how to replenish the environment is even more important. As Earth Day just passed, I’d like to dedicate my first article to five ways food can change the environment.


1. Compost — Not Trash!

It may be very difficult to get into a new routine when you’ve already grown familiar to one. For a while, I was just tossing out scraps of vegetables and fruits. Now, I’ve learned that instead of throwing it away, compost it, so that it can be used to grow more vegetables and fruits.


2. Buy Organic

Yes, organic produce is more expensive than your regular produce, but these vegetables and fruits aren’t covered in pesticides or mutated with unknown DNA. How does this help the environment? Well, you, yourself, are a part of the environment so why would you want to harm yourself with chemical-ridden vegetables and fruits? Plus, the fewer people buy produce covered in pesticides, the more people will join together and realize that pesticides aren’t the best way to protect our produce.


3. Save the Cows!

I’m not saying go vegan or vegetarian. I’m saying you should be knowledgeable of where you get your meat from and how the livestock is treated. You do not want to support a feedlot or farm/barn raised cattle. This means that these animals are kept in poor conditions. Allowing the livestock to roam will not only affect the flavor of the meat but will also create a better life for the animals. Always be appreciative of the meat and produce that you can have from the environment.


4. Buy Local

This supports small businesses as well as the environment. Attending the weekly farmers’ market will introduce you to farms in your area that produce whole, clean produce. It is rare, but there are always a few people who like to false advertise their produce. So be cautious and research before you buy.


5. Eat Less

As Americans, we tend to want it all! The worst part is, we get it all, and then we can’t use it all at once, and then we waste it. Prevent waste by buying only what you need. Stop stocking up at Costco on things that will surely go bad quickly, and limit the number of things you put in your fridge. The less you buy, the less you waste. This will save you money and save the planet.

 

Before all of this, I didn’t know “Saving the Planet” was so easy. I was so quick to assume that it was a long and boring process, and honestly, I was annoyed by those that cared so much. After realizing the huge impact humans make on this planet, instead of turning a blind eye, I’m going to start making some serious life changes. I owe it to myself, the food industry and whoever comes after me to do so.


Follow along with Kaya on Twitter via @kayaelizabeth__ and on Instagram via @kaya.daniels
To view the original article published on The Odyssey Online, click here.

Student Life: Teamwork On The Line

Written by AJ Fusco
Professional Culinary Arts Student

The “line”, a stressful environment in the kitchen full of heat, noise and controlled chaos.  Adrenaline and your team get you through the next “push” as the tickets pour out, just like water out of a fire-hose.  

The “line”, heavy fifty foot lengths of hose filled with water, held onto by the “attack team” as they make the “push” down the hallway towards the fire.  Just like in the kitchen, adrenaline and teamwork gets you through it.

firefighterhoselineThis correlation between the firehouse and kitchen was clearly evident to me the first time a I cooked on the line at the restaurant.  It may seem obvious, but unfortunately it can be easier said than done.  Firehouses and kitchens are a conglomeration of personalities, some you can say “work well with others” while some prefer to try and get the job done on their own.  Unfortunately, the latter almost always leads to the job not getting done properly, efficiently or at all for that matter.  Teamwork on the line is best when it has almost become instinctual, you notice when the other cook may be falling behind and know exactly what needs to be done to help get through the situation.  Same thing applies to the fire-ground.  When you see your brother having a difficult time performing a task, you jump right in to help without them needing to ask.  And herein lies another common thread, the unwillingness to ask for help.line-cooks

We have all been there, you are in the weeds or the hose-line is getting heavy, yet you don’t ask for help.  More often than not it is due to some underlying self-pride or machismo that we fear may be in jeopardy.  There have been cases where firefighters should have called a “mayday”, the term used when you are in distress and need assistance, but don’t due to the same reasons cooks don’t ask for help.  Unfortunately in these cases it is worse than some burnt steaks or overcooked vegetables.

At the end of the shift, we all want to go home knowing we did the best we could.  Working as a team is essential for this to happen and sometimes we need to just swallow our pride and admit we need a little help.  

Like the saying goes, “teamwork makes the dream work”!


Connect with AJ through his website, http://www.forkandhoseco.com/ as well as @ForkAndHoseCo on Instagram + Facebook.

It Takes A Village – The Support System of ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training Program

Written by Jared Gniewek
Intensive Sommelier Training Program Student

I am blessed to have support from many different avenues as I stumble through the ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training Program. I couldn’t imagine going it alone with the sheer amount of information we need to absorb and engage with. Wine is the quintessential rabbit-hole that gets deeper and deeper the further in you explore.

My family, employer, friends, students and faculty at the school create a support system from which I’ve benefited in some vital ways. Frankly, I don’t know if I could succeed on my own. The proverb is “it takes a village to raise a child” and I would extend that sentiment to myself becoming a pinned and certified Sommelier.

My family, who pushed me to begin the program, has truly been there for me. My wife has been the dutiful wine-widow as our schedules clash throughout the program. She hasn’t pressured me to drop hours at my day job or slack on my studies to spend more time with her and the cats and the endless streaming entertainment which haunts all our homes nowadays.

My Aunt, whom I saw at Christmas, received a Coravin as a gift. It was bonus wine tasting time while I showed her how to operate it (prime that needle folks!) and got to dig into a pretty elegant Burgundy 1er Cru followed by a brassy Napa sledgehammer.

My employer at the wine shop has adjusted my schedule to accommodate the class as well as allowing me to have anything in the store at cost so I can expand my palate without breaking the bank (and make me a better hand seller to boot). He has even allowed me to run tastings in the space with some of my fellow class members participating.  Five of us got together on a Sunday, just a few weeks ago and I pulled (at cost) 6 typical wines from France and set up a blind tasting right in the store. It was a great exercise for all of us who felt overwhelmed. Plus we had some laughs, which always help lock in content!

Speaking of my ICC classmates, we have been setting up events and been in constant communication through a messaging app one of my compatriots set up for us all. Keeping abreast of each other’s feelings on the pressures of the program and being able to reach out to each other has made the experience far less daunting.

The ICC faculty has made their availability clear but also that we need to be doing these types of things outside class in order to succeed. Wine must become a lifestyle for the months of the program. (Oh no! I’ve gotta devote myself to something I love! The DREAD!)  I try to keep it on my mind always, and part of my habits daily. This village is pretty rockin’!

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Student Life: Beginning the Intensive Sommelier Training Program

I started the Intensive Sommelier Training program on Monday. It’s now only Tuesday and my head is SPINNING. Learning wine is daunting. You need to remember that you can’t expect to know everything (at least in a day!) and it’s nearly impossible to have tried every wine available. It’s like film, in that you will probably never see every single movie ever created.

I certainly didn’t come in “cold” as I’ve been working as a wine clerk in a boutique wine shop for four years now. The shop wine experience has been great, the owner, values our opinions in the buying process so we taste everything and debate it coming in, he has supplemented my Intermediate Certification through the WSET and he charges us cost on our take home bottles. It’s been a great recipe for gaining hands on spit bucket experience, but is it a career?

jared-screenshotGreat wine knowledge can open the doors to opportunities working in retail beyond a clerk position. I could move on to a store that needs managers, or could work for a larger retailer that uses buyers. Or even transition to the distribution side and begin representing wine portfolios to stores and restaurants. Will I stay with retail after getting that pin? IF I get that pin?

This is a real study and the last thing I should do is get too cocky just because I happen to know what Tokaji is. [Our instructor] Scott stressed HUMILITY in his first lecture on Monday night. If the current 200-something individuals who have achieved the Master Sommelier level can accept the concept of humility, I think I can too.

Despite my head start, I am nowhere near where I need to be yet to become a Certified Sommelier. I am familiar with a different tasting method, which I’m going to have to unlearn to some extent. I am going to have to learn to slow down and deductively ascertain varietals and regions. I am woefully unkempt in appearance, coming from the more relaxed hardwood floors of hand sales rather than the more refined manner of dress seen throughout high end restaurants and expected for class. I feel like Jed Freakin’ Clampett over here!

My study skills are weak. I managed to read the material for the first class and get my notes taken, but my head and focus are so addled that it took me all day to get through it. In any case, despite what some might think, this is rigorous joyful labor and definitely not a dalliance into a hobby. Not at this level. I am ready to become a Certified Sommelier, but my head? Still spinning!

Student Life: The Transition From Biology to Baking

I fell in love with baking at a very young age. My homemaker mom loves to bake, and so I would always be right by her side learning by osmosis. It was fun not only eating a yummy homemade dessert but also getting to spend some quality time with her. 

ava3The thought of going to pastry school was far from my mind so after I graduated high school, I went off to college with a love for science and laboratory research and majored in biology. Along with biology classes, but I also had to take other science classes, such as Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Genetics. These classes were incredibly difficult, and the vast amounts of homework and studying took a toll on me. Baking helped me to release the stress and keep me focused. I always thought baking is a science: you follow a recipe to create something, just like you follow a procedure to obtain results in an experiment. Kitchen, research lab, same difference, right?


This past summer was tough for me because I finished my four years and I needed to find a job. While in college, I realized I loved being in the lab, though I knew something was missing. I thought I wanted to land a job as a research scientist, but when I spoke to someone in the field, he made me realize that it was not for me. During my job search, I baked cookies, brownies, cakes, and cupcakes that I gave away with utter abandon. I doled out my confections to family, friends, neighbors, and the firemen that came one evening when the smoke alarm when off (Don’t ask. I now know what not to do when making caramel.) They all praised me for my skill. Most recipients told me I should sell my products!ava12

Today, I am halfway through the Professional Pastry Arts Program. I have already learned so much, from baking cookies and piping rosettes to learning how to properly ice cakes with butter cream. I even had the honor of volunteering at a Jacques Torres demonstration, and it was an amazing experience. It was like watching Picasso paint! I also love that I can go home to teach my mom some of the techniques I’m learning. She sparked my love for baking and taught me so much over the years, so it is nice for me to be able to teach her for a change. 

Follow along with Ava’s adventures on Instagram, via @ava_szabby.

Watch ICC’s Culinary Arts Students Do the Mannequin Challenge

Watch as ICC Level 4 Culinary Arts students take a break from working hard in the classroom, to standing completely still. Watch as ICC students engage in the latest social media trend, the Mannequin Challenge. Special thanks to Chef Jeff Butler, Chef Herve Malivert and Chef Karen Chirgwin for participating as well!

 

For more information on our Professional Culinary Arts program, click here.

Student Life: The Importance of Mise en Place

Written by AJ Fusco
Professional Culinary Arts Student

I would like to start off by introducing myself and giving you a little background on myself.  I am a career firefighter in Westchester County and also attend ICC in the Professional Culinary Arts program.  My passion for cooking is just as strong the one I have for firefighting, which is what led me to the decision to become a “career adder.”  I have always had a second job while being a firefighter, and decided I would like to pursue something I truly loved.  Now, I have the best of both worlds!

One of the first things we learn at ICC is “Mise en Place”, or “to put in place”.  The emphasis my Chef Instructors put on this concept could not be greater, but rightfully so.  We all know the kitchen can be a volatile environment filled heat, smoke and the ever present danger of fire and injury.  And now that I think about it, the kitchen is very similar to being in a fire!  The intense adrenaline rush of service parallels those same feelings I get when operating on the fire-ground.  And just like cooking in a kitchen, being prepared as a firefighter is vital to a successful operation.  This is when I started to connect the dots between having your mise en place in both the kitchen and the firehouse.  

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We train in the firehouse to make sure we are prepared for whatever emergency may come our way.  The fire trucks are set up in a way so that equipment is organized together and easily accessible at any moment’s notice, just like having your ingredients and tools ready to go for a busy dinner service.  But before I started ICC, I admittedly was a messy cook in the firehouse.  Having all my ingredients ready to use was just not on my mind, which certainly didn’t help the situation of not knowing if an alarm would come in while getting dinner ready for a group of hungry firefighters.  That all changed when I learned about this thing called “Mise en Place”.  Suddenly, my meals not only tasted better but I was able to cook more efficiently in the unpredictable firehouse kitchen.  Countless times I have been prepping for a meal, when suddenly an alarm comes in and everything has to stop.  The oven and burners get shut off, and we are out the door, unsure of when we will be back to finish cooking the meal.  But having everything ready to go when we return to the firehouse has prevented plenty of take-out which is always a plus. So to say “Mise en Place” has changed me for the better as a cook would be a severe understatement!