Photography courtesy of Rob Bergstrom
Omakase, a term in Japanese that literally means 'it is up to you'. When stated to a sushi chef, it means give me your best and freshest. I believe amongst American Foodies, it has come to mean 'I am a daring and sophisticated eater'. At it's best, I believe it becomes a contract between the diner and chef, that each will play their part in making a memorable dining experience happen. I believe the key to this relationship is to test your own limitations and conceptions about food, to interact and give back to the chef. I think chefs love to cook for people, in the end, being a chef is about feeding peopleand the chef's table is that chance to truly make fine dining a communication to play off of each other.
I recently had the opportunity to 'Walk the Plank' at Lafitte, a restaurant established in San Francisco, and conned by Chef Russel Jackson, he of Subculture Dining fame. And he still seeks to push the envelope of there dining can go, Lafitte has a pirate inspired attitude in it's approach to food and dining, breaking rules where they need to be broken, stealing the moment, when it needs to be stolen. I met my friends Rob and Michael, frequent dining explorers and companions, as well as Michael's friend who joined us as well. Along with ourselves, a batch of sweet kumquats, some Red Boat fish sauce and some Phu Quoc black pepper also made the trip 'down the plank'.
Our first course was to be a Sourdough blini with a Nettle Aioli and sliced Summer Truffles, I considered this to be a bold start, with the nettle puree being added at the last minute to the aioli, the summer truffles being extravagant, and the sourdough blini providing a solid base of flavor for the other elements to play off of. One of the great things about 'walking the plank' is that the food is right there when being prepared.
Yes, that is pork belly, not fat back, and it is from an Iberico pig. It was perfectly smoked and yet, it is a hunk of fat. I am no fan of foie gras or raw pork fat, I find them to be two textures that are just to much for me. But, like I said, I was about to be taken to school. In these bowls, are the smoked pork belly, some raw peas, barely cooked potatoes and a stuffed squash blossom, with the goat cheese infused with Phu Quoc black pepper that we had brought for Chef.
This meal would be memorable however because of how Chef and the kitchen and staff would interpret and present the ingredients for our dining. Now, one thing to note, almost without exception, all of us have foods we love, and foods we dislike, these can certainly affect our choices in how we react to food. This can be a limitation when choosing from a menu, but, when sitting at chef's table and asking him to cook at his whim, you must relinquish those tastes and try whatever is presented, after all, this is what 'omakase' is all about.