When I was a student at the University of Hawaii and broke, a friend of mine had a nice job cooking and asked if I was any good in the kitchen, and I was, like, for sure. I worked really hard, and after a few years I made it to the Hualalai Resort, where I did everything from salads to grilled meats and gourmet pizzas. I was being mentored by Alan Wong, who brought in a sushi chef named Etsuji Umezu. It was decided that I would be his apprentice. The first time I worked with him, he showed me how to make maki [a basic sushi roll], and he told me I had magic hands. My grandfather was a butcher and my mom played the piano, so in our family, our skill is in our hands. Usuji-San taught me the art of sushi and I have been doing it ever since. I was trained to learn the fundamentals and use the fundamentals to express myself in a very simple way.
I am very passionate about sustainable sushi and I use the guidelines put forth by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Basically, the tuna we use is a line-caught yellowfin caught by specific fishermen. The tuna you want to stay away from is bluefin tuna. It’s an important symbol in both Japanese cultural and spiritual traditions but it’s endangered now because of overfishing.
I love honest, simple food with no pretense — I don’t like instructions on how to eat. Correct execution with basic techniques are so much more important than garnishes. When I’m going out, I like low-key places. I try to pay attention to San Diego chefs and eat their foods. Just like I sharpen my knife every day I like to use my everyday experiences to sharpen my skills. I like to stick to the roots of the craft; 400 years ago, sustainably sourced animals was all that anyone ever had. In my restaurant, I like people to sit in front of me and know that I will treat them with respect.
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 8–12 oz Coho salmon
- 1 small bunch of asparagus
- 1 baguette cut in half
- 2 garlic cloves
- extra virgin olive oil
- Old Bay seasoning
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 egg
- 1 small bunch of mixed field greens
- garlic mayo (optional)
- 1 heirloom tomato
- 1 lemon
HOW TO DO IT
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Pour 1 cup of balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer until it is reduced by half and then half again. The final reduction should have the consistency of maple syrup. Remove the reduction from the heat and allow it to cool.
Next, bring a small pot of water to boil and blanch the asparagus until it is bright green (about a minute). Remove the asparagus from the water with a slotted spoon and plunge it into a bowl of ice water to stop the asparagus from cooking. This will give it a bright green color. After another minute, remove the asparagus from the water and set them on a plate of paper towels and refrigerate them until needed.
Take one half of the baguette and slice it open. Slice the bread into thin strips and season with salt and pepper. Rub with the garlic and drizzle with the olive oil. Cook in the oven on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil for about 6 minutes or until nice and crisp. Remove from the oven and blend in a food processor or a blender until you have breadcrumbs.
On a plate, mix a 2:1 ratio of Old Bay seasoning and flour. In a small bowl, mix one egg with a splash of water and blend with a fork until sunny. Finally, fill another place with homemade breadcrumbs.
Take your salmon from the fridge and remove any bones. Set the salmon skin-side down on the cutting board and carefully slide your knife into the flesh, just above the skin. Create a little ear of skin to hold in your left hand and carefully pull the skin while pushing forward with the knife in your right hand. The goal is to skim the skin off without wasting any meat. Reserve the skin.
With your left hand, coat the fillet in the Old Bay/flour mixture, dunk it in the egg wash, and then set it in the plate of breadcrumbs. With your right hand, coat the fillet with breadcrumbs on both sides to get a thick layer of crumbs on both sides. Repeat with both fillets.
Season the remaining half of baguette with salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil, and butter and wrap in foil. Place in the oven for 3–5 minutes. Add two splashes of olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat. Lay the salmon in the sauté pan until the fillets are golden brown on each side. Remove from the pan and reserve.
Wipe out the sauté pan; heat another splash of olive oil, and sautée the asparagus with salt, pepper, and garlic for about a minute, or until hot.
Finally, portion a mixed green salad on each plate while leaving room for the sandwich. Place the bread on the plate, top with asparagus, salt and pepper, and garlic mayonnaise, heirloom tomato slices, and top with the salmon. Drizzle with the balsamic reduction and garnish with lemon wedges.