“Do you like my socks?” asks Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, lifting his Japanese robe to reveal black and white striped socks scrunched between polka dot sandals. The audience laughs; delighted by his silliness, a playful image of the world-renowned culinary talent better known for the scowling seriousness portrayed on “Iron Chef America” than the humor and charm he exudes in front of a live audience. Morimoto’s attire is symbolic of his culinary style, he dresses his feet like he mixes food cultures, and despite an almost indecipherable accent, he knows how to entertain.
Morimoto traveled from New York City to the Skirball to promote his first cookbook, “The New Art of Japanese Cooking,” which details his signature style combining French technique, Italian simplicity and Japanese flavor. Evan Kleiman, owner of Angeli Caffe and host of KCRW’s “Good Food,” radio program shared a glass of Morimoto’s Hazlenut Ale and engaged him in conversation about his childhood, his global cuisine and his passion for knives.
His food ambitions began when a shoulder injury prohibited his dream of a professional baseball career. Childhood memories dining with his family at sushi restaurants inspired him to try his hand at slicing sashimi.
“Was your mother a good cook?” Kleiman asked. “Actually, that’s why I became a chef,” he confessed.
Baseball would amount to a lifelong hobby as his culinary mastery catapulted him to celebrity-chef stardom on “Iron Chef America,” the highly rated Food Network show. But the glory of winning his coveted title hasn’t been all fun and games - in fact, he dislikes the intense pressure of the cooking competition.
It’s obvious Morimoto is happiest slicing slabs of Japanese toro using his favorite two knives from a 300-piece collection designed especially for him. During his cooking demonstration, he grated fresh daikon radish into fettucine-flat slices and sauteed them in marinara sauce. Then, he unveiled a giant piece of raw tuna which he used for his “tuna pizza,” an inventive dish of grilled tortilla bread (from Trader Joe’s!) brushed with eel sauce and topped with cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, herbs and a garlic aioli.
So who is his favorite chef? Morimoto instantly replied, “My wife.”