IF: How did you come to integrate Asian into your menu? How has your background influenced your use of typically Asian ingredients in traditional Latin cuisine?
RS: I have always enjoyed learning about and using cooking techniques from around the world and felt that the ingredients in Asian food would blend well with the ingredients in Latin food. They use similar flavor profiles, ingredients and levels of spice. While in Singapore, I also befriended another chef who had a background in Asian cuisine. It was truly an amazing collaboration. I would create something Latin and he would add an Asian touch or he would create something Asian and I would add a Latin spin to the dish. This was the first time I really calculatedly blended specific cuisines from different parts of the world. Since then, I’ve made a continuous effort to learn more about Asian cooking techniques and cuisines. Our menus are always evolving and I want to be at the forefront of Latin-Asian fusion cuisine. I would also say that other than Latin cuisine, my other favorite would be Asian. This was also a motivator.
IF: Are there particular Latin and Asian ingredients and flavors that you see coming together to create a new definition of “Asian Cool”?
RS: Tuna sashimi with serrano peppers, cilantro, and ponzu creates a fantastic collaboration of flavors. The heat from the chiles, the acidity from the sauce, and the cooling note from the cilantro leaves work perfectly together and create a really fun spin on traditional sashimi. Adding peppers that are typically used in Latin cuisine to many Asian dishes really define what I think is “Asian cool.” It’s the idea of implementing a creative spin on already fantastic Asian dishes.
IF: How are consumers responding?
RS: Latin-themed spices, fruits and chiles added to traditional Asian food would influence a consumer’s basic perception of what flavors work well together. That’s the beauty of combining these types of flavors. It opens up the guest’s mind to experience flavors that would have never occurred to them before.
IF: What are some examples of Asian-Latin dishes on your menus? Which restaurants in your group best exemplify the Latin-Asian flavor marriage?
RS: I have two concepts that really exemplify Latin-Asian cuisine - Zengo and Masa 14. Zengo translates to “give and take” and has a communal nature when it comes to dining. Guests can feast on a menu meant for sharing. Small plates include dim sum with Latin twists, Pork Dumplings with blood orange chipotle sauce. A couple of my favorites from the menu are the Achiote hoisin pork arepas made with corn masa, avocado and crema fresca or the Chinese braised short ribs with queso mandhego potato puree, dragon sauce and huitlacoche.
Masa 14 is located in Washington DC and has a menu that includes ceviches with Asian spins, dim sum with Latin influence, creations made on the wok with Latin ingredients and a variety of innovative sushi options. A few favorites are Pork Belly Steamed buns with achiote, pineapple sambal, cilantro and serrano chile and the Scorpian Roll with prawn tempura, avocado, sesame-chipotle mayo, eel sauce and tobiko.
IF: What Kikkoman sauces do you feel are a good fit for these types of dishes?
RS: Oyster sauce is wonderful for finishing a dish. I’ll pour it over cooked Chinese broccoli or asparagus to add a nice final flavor. It’s always a lovely addition to dishes with ginger and garlic.
I also use the Kikkoman Ponzu Sauce for many seafood dishes. Ponzu really enhances the flavors for seafoods like Ahi Tuna and seared scallops. It can be used as a base for a marinade or drizzled on top of the finished dish.
More than anything, my restaurants use a lot of the Kikkoman soy sauce and Kikkoman gluten-free soy sauce. I add it to salad dressings, use as a marinade, use to make sauces and add for a last-minute touch of salt. We see so many people with gluten sensitivities this day. It’s also great to have a soy sauce option that can accommodate these sensitivities without sacrificing flavor.
IF: What kinds of seafood marry best with Asian flavors?
RS: Black cod with miso is a longstanding favorite but there are so many fantastic Asian-seafood combinations. I’m also a big fan of paring tuna with Asian flavors like wasabi, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar and ginger. I also like dried scallops and shrimp with XO sauce.
IF: Give us some quick ideas/tips for using Soy Sauce as a flavor enhancer in Latin cooking?
Answer: In some parts of Mexico, soy sauce is actually a staple in much of their cooking. Over three-hundred years ago, Spanish trading ships came to Mexico bringing many Chinese immigrants over to help with labor. These immigrants began incorporating Asian ingredients like soy sauce into traditional Mexican dishes. Soy sauce is a wonderful base for a marinade. We marinate a variety of our meats and seafood in a soy sauce based mixture. Peruvian adobo marinade is great for beef skewers. It combines chile pepper paste, garlic, oregano, cumin, soy sauce, salt, oil and white vinegar. After marinating for 2 hours, the beef has a fantastic combination of Latin and Asian flavors.
IF: Do you think Latin-Asian food is here to stay? Where do you see this trend heading next?
RS: It was about twenty years ago that I visited Nobu in New York. I was still in culinary school at CIA and always trying new restaurants. Chef-owner Nobu Matsuhisa was beginning to infuse Japanese food with Latin ingredients. I remember this being the first time I really tasted Latin-Asian fusion. Here we are, over twenty years later and chefs from all over the world are grasping the trend. Ruxbin in Chicago, Sakaya in Miami and Cholon in Denver are just a few restaurants that come to mind. It’s great to see chefs experimenting with cuisines from different parts of the world. While Latin-Asian cuisine has really gained its legs, I feel that that fusion cuisine can also become a bit gimmicky. I’ve seen some chefs try to meld certain flavors and ingredients with little success. I see the future of “fusion” becoming more of a melting pot of many culinary styles and flavors. It won’t be specific to two or three countries.
IF: Umami is a concept that spans all cuisines. What Asian, Latin and/or other ingredients do you use to add umami to your food?
RS: I’ve found that bonito flakes, shiitake mushrooms, Chinese cabbage and soy sauce all fulfill the ever-important umami. Soy sauce does an especially fantastic job of rounding out the flavors of many dishes. It has a longer lasting sensation than many other seasonings without an unpleasant aftertaste.
IF: What’s “Asian Cool” in foodservice right now?
RS: I think we will see a lot more Izakaya – Japanese pub and street foods. I also think cool Asian bowl concepts are definitely gaining traction. Noodle bowls, ramen and pho are really taking off. Ramen bars are in our future. I think sashimi will be incorporated into other cultures like tiraditos in Peruvian and crudos in Mexican. I could also see Robata grills taking off. I see chefs getting more and more creative with the flavors, themes and ingredients going into these dishes.
IF: What’s the next cool Asian cuisine?
IF: What are some of your favorite simple, Asian-inspired dishes?
RS: A well-prepared Miso Soup is always comforting and satisfying. The simple taste of dashi and miso paste with a hint of saltiness will always be a favorite. We add a touch of chipotle and truffle oil to ours to for extra heat and depth. It’s fantastic. I also love sushi, sashimi, Thai satay and pad Thai.
IF: What are some of your favorite "cool tools" from the world of Asian cooking?
RS: The wok can be used for cooking a variety of foods. It’s a great resource for cooking vegetables and meats evenly. I’m also a fan of the deep frying skimmer. In addition to using this for frying, it has become my go-to tool for blanching vegetables.
IF: What specific tips would you give any operator about incorporating Asian flavors and Asian "cool-factor" in their menu?
RS: It’s most important to make sure whatever ingredients you want to experiment with you must have a balance and also make sure your flavors are bold. Be creative. Try new flavors and new ingredient combinations.