It’s not too often that strangers invite you to their home for a sumptuous dinner, but in this age of Facebook and LinkedIn, sometimes we get to be friends of a sort before we ever meet face to face, and thus luck is with us.
Such was my introduction, via LinkedIn, to Hiroko Shimbo, an author of three books on Japanese cooking. Last Sunday she kindly invited me–and three of her friends–to the weekend home of her husband Buzz and herself, which is only about ten minutes from me.
Six is the perfect number for dinner, per M.F.K. Fisher, and perfect and perfectly enjoyable it was, in spite of the fact I was meeting everyone for the first time.
Buzz was welcoming and affable and Hiroko herself was warm and friendly, too, adorable with her small and energetic frame, pageboy and bangs, and a ready smile. Also on hand were Giuseppe from Colombia and Jeremiah Stone, a chef on the cusp of opening, with a partner, the eagerly anticipated Contra on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a “neo-bistro” that will offer a $55 tasting menu of five courses.
Also there was Annette Tomei, a very knowledgeable and experienced chef, sommelier, and food and wine consultant, based currently in Brooklyn and at www.vineducation.com. Good company indeed.
Hiroko is an accomplished chef who consults for many food companies and restaurants and also teaches cooking at the International Culinary Center in New York (formerly the French Culinary Institute). Her first book, which I’ve owned and used for years without ever dreaming I’d meet the author, is the award-winning The Japanese Kitchen (Harvard Common Press, 2000). Her second is The Sushi Experience (Knopf, 2006) and her most recent, Hiroko’s American Kitchen: Cooking with Japanese Flavors (Andrews McMeel, 2012), which won the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ 2013 Cookbook Award under the American category.
After some refreshing young ginger tea, we assembled in the garage and sipped the couple’s scrumptious homemade umeshu (plum liqueur) as we nibbled peanuts and a Bobolink cheese and watched Hiroko assemble the cooking apparatus she’d be cooking some of dinner on. A Weber filled with sand (because the fire would be so hot it could melt through the metal), then regular Kingsford charcoal, and two types of Japanese charcoal, one to get it going, and then binchotan, a special one made of slow-burning oak and imported from Japan. It burns extremely hot for quick and perfect cooking. A pile of pale gray bricks specially arranged contained the intense and nearly smokeless fire.
Before we knew it, it was time to gather around the dining table for the first course, a silky smooth magenta chilled beet soup, garnished with bits of dried beet and a quenelle of lemon sorbet.
Then came what may well be my favorite part, a beautifully arranged quartet of baby vegetables lightly simmered in a delectable broth to drink after eating the veggies.
Then came top sirloin steaks of Australian grass-fed beef seared over the binchotan, with an Australian Shiraz, natch, and lima beans with fresh corn (also grilled) and baby eggplants (ditto).
The conversation lingered on many topics as we enjoyed a dessert of a lovely cake made with young ginger. It was a true treat for me to be in such distinguished company and I was very grateful to have been invited to this delightful evening. Thank you Hiroko and Buzz!