Fans of "Iron Chef" may remember two-time winner Katsuya Fukushima pressure-cooking goat ribs with then-boss Jose Andres, or on a later competition breaking down a 40-pound mahi-mahi. Or D.C. foodies may remember this outgoing fellow as the adventurous head chef at now-defunct Cafe Atlantico in Penn Quarter. But today, Fukushima turns up as executive chef at a shared venture called Daikaya, a ramen bar downstairs and a cool, contemporary izakaya lounge upstairs.
Welcome back to the kitchen, Katsuya Fukushima! As it turns out, this wildly successful young chef with a devout following has taken some time off, trying to figure out where next after working for Andres for almost 15 years. "I moved back with my parents," he says, adding that he enjoyed spending focused time with his family and relaxing, reading and watching TV.
Indeed, reviewing his career, Fukushima would likely credit his father with his strong work ethic and both parents with his passion for food. "They are great parents who never gave me a guilt trip about my career," he says. "Dad was a military officer and is very regimented," requiring his son to work his way through college to pay costs.
|If you go|
|» Where: 705 Sixth St. NW|
|» Info: 202-589-1600; daikaya.com|
|» Hours: Ramen Shop: (first floor) 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; Izakaya (second floor): 5 to 10 p.m. Monday, 5 to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday|
But as a college student at the University of Maryland, the food world was not his career plan. All that changed when he got a part-time job with Ridgewells Catering after college. "I walked into the kitchen, and that was it," he says, adding that the cooking stint changed his life, converting him from an amateur to a man in love with the art of gastronomy.
As he notes, his favorite part of cooking is its analytical and creative processes. "I've always been good at math and art, but I couldn't see myself sitting at a desk," he says. "But cooking requires analytical thinking and great creativity."
After college, Fukushima attended Gaithersburg's L'Academie de Cuisine for formal training. Later, he interned with Vidalia, then was hired by Jaleo where at the time Jose Andres was its consulting chef. "That's when I landed with Jose," he says.
After a series of jobs, including a stint in New York to help Douglas Rodriquez open a tapas restaurant and a season at Spain's famed El Bulli, Andres asked him to return to D.C. to run Cafe Atlantico. Charged with running a Nuevo Latino kitchen and helping out at Andres' nearby Oyamel restaurant, Fukushima acquired in-depth knowledge of both classical and Latino techniques. As a result, he credits Andres as his mentor. "I owe a lot to him," he says. "I learned a lot, and he helped me become a chef."
Today, working as a partner in his own restaurant and cooking every day to create wildly flavorful Japanese soups and small plates, Fukushima looks like a man at peace with life and career. After all, he notes, his father always gives him this advice: "Always be happy and healthy." Fukushima is both.
What is your comfort food?
I love mashed potatoes and meatloaf. I could eat that every day. Or the abura miso fill for the rice ball.
What has been the greatest influence on your cooking?
It would have to be Jose. He has made the biggest impact. What he taught me was to think and also learning from Ferran Adria [owner of now-closed El Bulli] through Jose. And I worked for Ferran.
What's in your fridge?
Coffee, milk, condiments and that's it. And ice cream sandwiches. I pretty much live here.
Which is your favorite restaurant?
There are so many good restaurant but I go to Jaleo a lot. Part of that is because I grew up there.
Which is your favorite ingredient?
I don't think I have one. I love cooking everything. I make every ingredient shine. A carrot is as important as foie gras. But if I had to pick one, it would be potato and eggs.
My Mother's Abura Miso Onigiri
(Fatty Miso Filled Rice Ball)
Makes about 35 servings
The abura miso should be sweet, salty and rich.
For Abura Miso Filling:
1 quart diced pork (shoulder and/or belly)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil or lard
1 cup miso (red and/or white)
3/8 cup sugar
1 cup chopped scallions
Japanese pickle optional (not necessary but will kick it up a notch)
Onigiri Molds (optional)
To make the filling, lightly salt the pork and set aside. Heat the oil in a pan until it begins to smoke. Carefully add pork to the oil; allow the pork to sear. Try to avoid moving the pork so much. you want the pork to brown and render its natural fat. Once the meat has completely browned, add the miso and stir to incorporate. Continue to mix until the meat and miso have absorbed all the fat and become a homogenized mix. Add the sugar and stir. The mixture will become thinner in consistency and will become quite shiny. Turn off the heat and add the scallions. Adjust seasoning, adding more salt and/or sugar as needed.
Meanwhile, steam Japanese rice, and when the rice and the filling are ready, scoop 3/4 to 1 1/2 cup rice, or more as desired, into a small bowl. Make a small well in the center, and the filling, and add another scoop of rice to cover the filling. Dip hands into salted water, and rub them together to moisten your hands' surfaces. Cup the rice in your hands and form a triangle with the width of about 1 1/2 inches. Place on top of a nori sheet, fold the rice ball up with the nori, and serve with a Japanese pickle, if desired. Please enjoy!