Tuesday, May 24, 2011


After spending time with the Uchi Cookbook (named after the restaurant of the same name in Texas), I've come to realize the undeniable parallels between Uchi and the Momofuku philosophy of cuisine. Uchi is to Japanese food what Momofuku is to Korean. Even chefs Tyson Cole and David Chang seem to possess the same perfection-driven attitude, in addition to both having won James Beard Awards and international accolades.

                It's uncanny then, that both the Uchi Cookbook and Momofuku Cookbook share similar characteristics; amazing photography, intriguing personal anecdotes and even similarly styled recipe introductions. Those skeptical about a sushi restaurant in Austin, Texas can put out of their mind any misguided preconceptions; Cole's creations strut the line between traditional Japanese and New American. Original rock star-like creations include Shitake Mushroom Bacon and Poached Lobster with Canary Melon Gazpacho. Japanese ingredients and philosophy are used expertly along with the bounty of America to manifest amazing, original dishes.

                Chef Cole's recipes share much of the same difficulty as other restaurant-level cookbooks; perhaps even more so if one has to search out the freshest fish for the sashimi and sushi applications. Garnish components (called "Yakumi" in Japanese) are featured in their own section of the book, where the reader is at liberty to prepare any of the plentiful and deliciously original recipes for use in virtually any recipe in the book, or even as a side to a meal prepared by other means. Cole makes no effort to hide his affection for the compression technique using an expensive chamber-vac machine, but he also provides more user-friendly recipes as well that don't break the bank (here's looking at you, Modernist Cuisine!).

                While some may look at certain recipes and wonder how the flavours could ever mesh and work together, Tyson Cole explains that when creating a new dish, he splits his ideas into components, supplementing different ingredients of similar flavour profiles to create an original experience. One example of which would be the use of a Peach-Kimchi Puree on a dish with Wagyu Beef Short Ribs; the sweet-sour puree replaces the traditional reductions such as Bordelaise, while still maintaining the same flavour profile.

                The art direction of the book itself is worthy of galleries. In addition to the gorgeous, vibrant photographs of each plate, Cole pays his dues to the crew that works hard beneath him to make the Uchi machine run smoothly. His staff photographs are prolific throughout the book, some shot in color and some in black and white. It's nice to see a chef bring himself to a level where he recognizes the level of work those around him have put in as well. The "Yakumi" chapter showcases each individual garnish on a white canvas to show off it's vibrancy and perhaps also to inspire the reader to think of them as independent, as opposed to being tethered to specific recipes.

                It's a tough job, I imagine, preaching the wonders of Japan in the balmy city of Austin, Texas. Cole admits himself that at first his food was a hard sell. Since then, however, his rise has been meteoric as Texans realize the magic and quality that is being presented from behind the polished wooden bar at Uchi. He's doing an important thing, Tyson Cole, in pushing people beyond their comfort zones. Part of the fun of eating something like, say, Foie Gras Nigiri (besides the taste, of course), is the concept that you're about to put something completely new and exciting in your mouth. Excitement is something Uchi is churning out like a nuclear power plant, and for those of use who don't get the opportunity to visit Austin on a regular basis, Chef Cole's cookbook provides an alternative gateway to something mind-blowing.

Reviewed by Kevin Jeung
Uchi by Tyson Cole
Hardcover, $47.95, 260pp

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