Morimoto is a paradox of sorts; an ardent traditionalist who defies tradition. A celebrity chef who's more chef than celebrity. You can sense his reluctance at his fame -- this is a guy who rather be known for his food than just for the sake of notoriety.
This makes it all the more odd that he has a cookbook out.
But despite the fact that he now wears a ponytail and fashionable horn-rimmed glasses since his permanent move to the States (he has his own place in Philly and NYC), he's still the same intense warrior I came to revere from the original Iron Chef.
He's an honorable samurai in a land full of self-promoting hucksters -- one of which, by the name of Bobby Flay, he had a run-in early on.
Who can forget Morimoto's outrage and anger when he saw Flay, his opponent, standing on a cutting board after that cross-continental episode of Iron Chef.
For a second, it looked like Bobby Flay was going to be Bobby-Splayed-Open-With-a-deba-bocho (that's the kind of knife Morimoto uses to gut fish).
This no-nonsense tone plays into the book. Here are a few points on a page entitled "How to Eat Sushi":
"Don't dunk your sushi rice-first into soy sauce."
"Don't mix wasabi into your soy sauce."
But he can be playful too.
A prime example is what he does to that popular chocolate-covered Japanese kid snack, Pocky. His rendition substitutes asparagus for the cookie sticks.
The rest of the cookbook is full of gorgeous pictures, knife-sharp prose and a slew of recipes that range from the mundane (Grilled Pork Chops), the classic (Braised Black Cod), and the "what-the-f***?" (Chocolate Coated Sweetfish Liver).
Some of the more whimsical dishes he invented Johnny-on-the-spot on the battle floor. Others come from his restaurant kitchen.
But methinks a bit of wordplay was the inspiration for an iceberg salad called "Frozen Lettuce".
If you're going to use this book to cook with (not a coffee-table book as I will), it's full of useful tips. For "Pork Kakuni", he writes:
"The longer you make this ahead, the better. If you're serving it on the weekend, begin preparations on Thursday."
But make no bones about it, Morimoto's recipes are involved, utilizing hard-to-find ingredients like Japanese soy lecithin (obrato) and sudachi, a citrus fruit virtually unheard of outside Japan. This isn't How to Boil Water. It is not, however, as intimidating as Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook.
Thomas Keller. Now there's a worthy competitor I'd like to see pitted against Morimoto on Iron Chef America.