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Celebrity Chef Masaharu Morimoto Does Honolulu Eatery His Way;
Morimoto Waikiki Opens at the Waikiki Edition Hotel

By Joleen Oshiro, The Honolulu Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

October 20, 2010 --One wouldn't imagine a celebrity chef like Masaharu Morimoto grappling with the same issues as we do. What could the Iron Chef possibly have in common with, say, a schoolteacher or a stay-at-home mother?

A lot, it turns out. Truth is, no matter what we do for a living, it all comes down to a balancing act. Just as teachers negotiate the diverse needs of a couple dozen students, and moms juggle cooking, cleaning and chauffeuring, the good chef must hash out how his own cuisine responds to the region in which he places his restaurant.

Morimoto has always insisted he'll present dishes featuring fresh Hawaii ingredients at Morimoto Waikiki, and he has, cooking with such items as Big Island abalone and heart of palm, local chicken, eggs and organic Kona coffee. He also serves up fresh fish like opakapaka and ehu.

The chef is pleased that a Big Island farm is growing the citrus fruit yuzu solely for his restaurant. Until now, yuzu was unavailable to his U.S. restaurants.

At the same time, there are some Japanese ingredients Morimoto admits he simply cannot live without.

"I am a Japanese chef, so I sometimes prefer Japanese ingredients. A French chef would want French ingredients; an Italian chef would want Italian ingredients," he said at a news conference Friday at Morimoto Waikiki.

Among those are fish from Japanese waters, flown in from the Tsukiji market in Tokyo.

To ensure freshness of the 25 to 30 varieties of fish the restaurant offers daily, Morimoto bought a "super freezer," made for medical use, that keeps a temperature of about minus-130 degrees and keeps fish from degrading. This allows for the purchase of larger quantities of rare fish, such as wild tuna, when they become available.

A "gelation" freezer, set at 32 degrees (freezing temperature), holds fish that are sliced and vacuum sealed and need to "rest" before being served.

The chef also insists upon top-quality sushi rice. In Japan, special rice warehouses are temperature- and humidity-controlled. But these facilities don't exist in Hawaii, and shipping from Japan would degrade quality. Morimoto's solution: He polishes his own rice. He tapped a California supplier for Japanese-style brown rice and runs about 24 pounds daily through a polishing machine from Japan.

The balancing act even informed the chef's choice of locale. "I wanted to focus on the local people, so I thought this was a good (site)," he says of the Edition hotel at the entrance of Waikiki. "Ala Moana and downtown are nearby, so it's not too far for the local people; plus, tourists can come in as well."

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