Bret’s Table was honored to have Hiroko Shimbo visit for a few days recently. She was in town to teach classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill . During her visit, I had a chance to talk to her about growing up in Japan. She gives her mother much of the credit for her love of cooking and her love for life in general.
Like so many other young girls, her mother taught her not only of the beauty of food, but of its nutritional value as well. Her father was a surgeon and his clinic and small hospital were attached to their home. Her mother would cook for the patients that were recovering from their illnesses, so Hiroko spent a lot of time at her mother’s apron strings learning what foods would assist in their healing.
In Japan, young girls are also taught of the importance of the color as well as the texture of food. They learn how to artfully arrange each food being served on a plate or in a bento box to create visual appeal as well as learn the nutritional balance. I was sad to hear from her that boys don’t learn these things from their mothers, only the girls in Japan. I hope that will change with time. It would have left me out in the cold, had I grown up in Japan.
Stateside, the importance of eating a wide variety of food “colors” is a relatively new idea. For example, we should be eating dark green vegetables, red fruits, purple berries, etc. You get the picture.
I was also fortunate to accompany Hiroko to a local Asian grocery store here in town. As we walked the aisles she pointed out for example, the best brown rice to purchase, which shoyu (soy sauce) I should be using and introduced me to Japanese pickled vegetables. Gherkins they are not! After shopping, I spent the evening learning how to make fresh Udon noodles and assisting in the preparation of the television spot on Showcase Minnesota . After returning home from the TV studio the next morning, we got down to work preparing dinner for those that would be sitting at Bret’s Table that evening.
Inspired by what was ripe in JT’s garden, Hiroko created an amuse-bouche of cherry tomatoes topped with a chiffonade  of wilted and seasoned Swiss chard and drizzled with a peanut sauce.
While picking the tomatoes, the abundance of summer squash was staring us in the face, so we decided to make a cold soup using the squash, a little celery root, onions, kombu , and a couple of dollops of brown miso.
Some preserved figs that I had made were in the fridge, so the garnish for the soup was a slice of fig that was sautéed in butter (PastureLand , of course) and a couple of sprigs of leek greens.
For the entrée, Hiroko was recipe testing a variation of a Japanese curry which would take six hours to cook. It started with a couple of pounds of onions that were caramelized as one would for French onion soup. Added to them was a roux as dark as chocolate, along with apples, bananas, a lemon as its juice. To that, shrimp stock and dashi were poured into the pot and it all cooked together for about 4 hours. There was straining and pureeing and additional cooking before it was the consistency for which she was looking
We purchased a couple of pounds of U15 shrimp from Coastal Seafoods  which were seared and laid alongside a timbale of steaming brown rice. All of these elements were laid on a pool of the curry sauce. The sauce reminded me of what I might enjoy as part in a gumbo if I were to replace the heat with notes of sweet and citrus.
One of the guests brought an ice chest full of various sakes that we tried with each course. The more I taste sake, the more I am enjoying the many flavor profiles and nuances. I will be teaching a Pairing Food and Sake class this autumn at The Chef’s Gallery. What’s going to be fun about this class is the fact that we will have non-traditional pairings to bring home the fact that sake can be paired with cuisines other than Japanese. Be sure to check it out and sign up if you’re interested. Regardless, spend some time in the kitchen and enjoy a meal with a loved one.