Chef Chat, Part 3: Mark Gabriel Medina of Kata Robata - The Tasting

One of the best things about doing a chef chat is it really allows me to get to know the chef behind the food. Something that may not have come through in Part 1 and Part 2 of Mark Gabriel Medina's chef chats is his personality. In person, Medina has a joyful, youthful personality that shines through in his happy-go-lucky, smiling demeanor. He's funny, quirky, admittedly clutzy at times, and humble to a fault. The chat was a pleasure, the tasting even more so.

We started with a palate cleanser of lychee sorbet over matcha green tea powder, with a sliver of white chocolate artfully presented in a porcelain spoon laid delicately on a bed of crushed ice: simple, sweet and wonderful.

Medina's signature dish, I could wax poetic about ad infinitum. A halved bone marrow is encrusted with panko crumbs and miso for a slight crisp, roasted, then finished off with bonito flakes. It's served with thin ovals of toasted bread, dashi-pickled red onions, sichimi togarashi-marinated mustard seed, lime and salt; the idea is to scoop the molten fatty essence of bone marrow and spread it over the toast.

Bone marrow itself is so good that I didn't think it needed the accompaniments, but Medina said he wanted to balance the heaviness of the bone marrow with some acidity. And he was right. The sourness of the pickled red onion not only changed the flavor but lightened up the dish. Likewise, in the same way that fish roe adds an element of texture, the slightly sweet rounds of mustard seed brought an added textural dimension while softening the fatty heaviness of the marrow.

Another beautifully conceived creation was his 72-hour sous vide Texas akaushi kobe beef short rib. Small chunks were arranged in a mound atop a bed of cilantro ginger pesto tomato, and topped with sprouts tossed with Japanese wasabi dressing. The flavors were deep, the meat succulent and then some, and oh-so-heavenly tender from being sous vide for so long. There's this expression I learned from Twitter and I'm going to borrow it because it perfectly describes what I experienced when I tasted this dish: "And boom goes the dynamite!"

For dessert, a mound of white chocolate namelaka which had been spun with liquid nitrogen was set atop a green tea matcha powder with a berry sauce swirl. The bowl was innocently presented before me, but before I knew what was happening, Medina was pouring a cool smoky mist liquid nitrogen on it for wow factor. A dark chocolate version, not yet on the menu, was given similar treatment, and both were cold, light, airy, yet full of the flavors of the individual components.

Through our chat, I got the sense that Medina's still learning, still exploring, still looking for inspiration. Although he is still young at 29, he didn't start his culinary career until his mid-twenties. Even so, the dishes he's coming up with show a mastery of skill and technique. And the taste of the food, which is the most important aspect, shows a strong grasp of the empirically good. I'm definitely a fan, and so are his co-workers. As I was doing my tasting, one of the sushi chefs in the front of the house sang Medina's praises, and what he said sums up Medina to a tee: "Gabe is not just a great guy, he's also a great chef."

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