Burger-San

I used to be friends with a woman who was a nutritionist by profession.  She was a nice person, but pretty uptight. She once told me I had to break my emotional connection with food.  Admittedly, my food follies as of late have been calorically supercharged, but that’s what exercise is for right?

I haven’t thought about what she said to me for a few years,  but looking at the picture above brings it back to me.  I get what she was saying, but it was inherently maligned.  People who rely on food as an emotional crutch have problems that need treatment.  But food is inherently about an emotional connection.

Sustenance aside, cooking for someone is about providing for them.  It’s more symbolic than it was in caveman times, but the action of creating food for someone and sharing it with them is a core example of the human experience on a basal, altruistic level.  Eating food elicits feeling of happiness because of that shared connection. It becomes a memory, and brings up past, similar memories.

What’s my emotional connection to the awesome looking burger?  Aside from being freakin’ delicious, it was made by a good friend, Tadashi Ono.

Tadashi is the executive chef at Matsuri.  As a Japanese chef who learned his chops in a traditional french kitchen, he’s an artist whose ability to created beautiful, interesting food is steeped in an organic, heartfelt love of creating food for others to enjoy.

I met Tadashi when he came on as head chef at my parents’ restaurant, La Caravelle (now closed).  He came on in the mid 90′s and unleashed a fusion of japanese ingredients in a traditional french setting before it became an overdone fad. It was inventive, not gimmicky.  He created some of the best food to ever come out of that kitchen, and it was a joy for my brothers and I to eat there whenever we could.

Flash forward a few years, and the New York Times’ Alex Witchel wrote a fantastic piece on my mother, our champagne, and Tadashi.  It was also a showcase for how well Champagne mixes with unlikely, “unrefined” foods such as burgers.

The burger in question comes from Tadashi’s new book: The Japanese Grill. It’s full of simple, delicious, Japanese grill recipes that are perfect for the summer.  At a glance, the burger looks pretty normal.  Hell, it even looks overcooked.  It’s not. Tadashi invited me to Matsuri for a cooking session and used it to show off a few awesome dishes from the new book, including the burger.

The secret to that burger is as follows:  It’s a mixture of ground pork,beef (the fresher the better, duh), panko soaked in milk, onion, soy sauce, and sesame oil.  Check out the recipe here.

Pretty large patties are formed with a divot in the middle.  when you hit it on the grill rack, the pork fat renders, and it plumps up.

To add nutritional insult to injury, a pat of butter on top of the burgers while they are finishing up adds a simple decadence to it.  Slap the burger on a lightly-grilled Brioche bun, and you’re almost done.

Normal ketchup won’t do.  Instead, Tadashi iterates and combines it with a popular japanese condiment,  Wasabi.

Together, it’s a fantastic combination.  The burger is juicy and fatty, despite being cooked medium due to the pork content (not that I have a problem with medium-rare pork).  The wasabi ketchup offers a refreshing antithetical kick that brings everything together.

The best part of watching the burger take shape was watching Tadashi himself.  He exudes a heartfelt love of the craft; it speaks to his emotional connection to the creation and sharing of food.

Tadashi reminds me of the importance of having that emotional connection.  It’s cultural and inherently human to do so.  As far as I’m concerned, that once-friend of mine was as wrong as ever.  She has repressed her connection to something that brings us all together, and that makes me sad for her.  If proving her wrong means gaining a few lbs around the middle, so be it.

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