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Houston Recipe House: Do Good and Have Fun

Katsuya Chefs David and Kenji were recently at Houston's Recipe House for a June Chef Surprise. Guests were treated to a sushi and sashimi demonstration and tasting from Chef Kenji and a dinner served family-style from Chef David.

Recipe House is part of Recipe for Success, a foundation dedicated to combating childhood obesity and encouraging long-term health by changing the way our children understand, appreciate and eat their food.

The evening began with Chef Kenji demonstrating how to make a California roll. He also shared a couple interesting pieces of plating trivia: Most sushi restaurants place the wasabi in the front right corner and the pickled ginger directly behind it.

Katsuya does just the opposite as the result of a rule from Chef Katsuya. All sushi rolls should be placed so the diner can see the middle and leaned in the direction for a right-handed eater. Katsuya uses Nishiki rice, which is a new crop rice that is between six months and a year old.

Chef Kenji also shared that Katsuya prefers the San Diego uni over the Santa Barbara because it is sweeter and bigger. It's on the menu nearly every day. Katsuya also uses Scottish salmon because of its higher fat content. King salmon is -- of course -- better, but it's too expensive to use exclusively.

Chef Kenji worked very methodically and described each move he made. One guest wondered if sushi and sashimi grade were the same, and he assured us that it is always the same grade of fish.

Salmon must first be frozen per FDA regulations, and it is the only fish that carries that requirement. The freshwater fish can carry many parasites that freezing kills. The kitchen at Katsuya lightly brines its salmon for 30 minutes and then freezes it for three days. The salmon sashimi Chef Kenji served us was beautiful, buttery and tasted of the ocean.

As Chef Kenji was making nigiri, he showed us how much rice to put in our hands and said that some sushi masters can actually feel how many grains of rice they are holding. It is also important not to put too much pressure on the rice or fish, so he only uses two presses to form his nigiri.

Chef Kenji served us a California roll, tuna roll, salmon sashimi and albacore nigiri. They were made with precision, respect and tradition and tasted fresh and succulent, with the deepest of umami flavor of the ocean.

The next part of the evening was with Chef David, who prepared crispy rice with spicy tuna, miso-marinated black cod and Kobe foie gras. The crispy rice was chewy and crispy, as it had been lightly cooked in clarified butter and soy, and the tuna was soft and tender, with good spice that didn't overwhelm the dish. It was paired with Sake Yumeakari. The sake was soft and floral, with hints of apples and pears. Its brightness was perfect with the tuna.

The miso-marinated black cod had been marinated 48 hours and roasted in a salamander oven. The soft, flaky flesh had a deep, sweet flavor, with slight chocolate notes. Served alongside broccoli, pickled ginger flower and ponzana (potato), it was a perfectly balanced dish that hit every note on my palate.

Lastly, we were served Kobe foie gras. As it was being prepared, we were served Katsuya's own sake, Sake Katsuya. As we tried to smell the sake, the air became heavy and thick with foie gras fat, and the searing foie was all you could smell. It was heavenly.

The Katsuya sake was actually very good; made with Fiji water and tasting very heavily of pears and spice, it's smooth with a slight cucumber finish. It held up well to the plump, fatty, rare prime beef and the buttery foie gras.

Recipe House hosted a wonderful evening for sushi lovers and fans of Katsuya. No sushi was pre-plated for the large group, and everything was cooked by course. It was a perfect Japanese meal.

Recipe for Success is a great organization with some fun kid activities planned for the summer, and it will be hosting many more Surprise Chef Dinners at Recipe House after the hot summer.

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Patrise Shuttlesworth