Behind the scenes at Hapa: the big kitchen meeting

Now that we have four locations of Hapa Izakaya, and a fifth opening in Toronto, we are moving towards further standardizing our menu. We started with a few pages that were consistent at all locations and then each location would have its own “fresh” section of specials that they developed independently. Some specials became so popular that we moved them to the “ground” menu so that we could offer them at all locations. But as our audience grows wider we are moving towards more standardization. Which also means reviewing each location’s rendering of ground menu items and deciding which is the best and should become standard for each location. This was not an easy meeting. I was prepared to come, take pictures with my groovy new camera and external flash, and maybe taste a few things, but I was not prepared to preside over something like a Japanese version of a Pillsbury Bake-Off. I adore our staff and the last thing I would want is to cause hurt feelings! Creative people, they are so sensitive! But fortunately our kitchen guys are pretty practical too.

So if you’ve ever wondered what a restaurant kitchen meeting is like….it’s actually pretty fun, the tasting ones anyway. The downside for me is that a lot of it takes place in Japanese which I don’t speak. Justin translates for Kevin (General Manager) and I and the guys use English when they can, and it’s always really cute when they express themselves in English. We needed to discuss a few practical things first, like pricing, and that’s never very interesting. We managed to spend 10 minutes discussing the cutting of tofu and the recipe and presentation of agedashi tofu, which is a deep-fried tofu dish with dashi, one of my daughter’s favourites and mine. But then the guys went to the kitchen and began the cook-off! I love watching professional cooks at work – their movements are so fast and sure and their timing is always absolutely spot-on. They let me take a few pics in the kitchen while they worked. I know I’m the owner but I don’t presume (not much anyway). I ask first before I intrude into my staff’s working space…and OMG, it’s hot in there.

We had a tough time deciding on one salad dressing. All four locations do a similar citrus-soy dressing and they’re all really good. (I copied down my favourite dressing recipe to use at home but will test it out before I post it because the guys make dressing in litre amounts so I need to cut it down considerably.) We ended up choosing the simplest dressing; it’s harder to screw it up when there are fewer ingredients and the difference wasn’t noticeable to anybody who isn’t a cook. But we had to eat a lot of salad to make this determination!

Trying out the salad dressing

Back to the kitchen….

Cutting scallops at the speed of light…

Scallop Tartare: chopped scallops, bacon, karashi mustard mayonnaise, wonton chips – but it’s ungarnished as it’s for tasting purposes only. Usually this would have some kind of fluff of alfalfa sprouts, some finely julienned radishes, that kind of thing.

Pork Belly

Pork Belly Lettuce Wrap, with crispy wonton bits, apple-yuzu jam and pickled red onions

Pork belly is extremely tasty, but I must confess: it’s not my favourite dish, because I am kind of fat-phobic. For some reason butter and cream are ok, but meat fat, no. It’s not elegant to chew at it like a rat, trying to avoid the fatty parts, so I leave this to Justin. The flavours are divine, though.

This is one of my favourite dishes:

(heavenly choir sings a chord) Polenta Fries!

Did I say I was fat-phobic? The hypocrisy! Well, it’s not meat fat. These are totally worth the calorie count. Crispy light tempura surrounding melting, hot, cheesy, creamy corn goodness? A little shmear of arugula gel for a touch of tartness? A drizzle of balsamic reduction adding its sweet acid to the mix? What’s not to like? Oh, right, the mile I’ll have to run to compensate for the calories. This is one reason I don’t drink: because I want those calories for things like pasta and cupcakes.

Beef Short Ribs, mmmm

We had to eat a lot of short ribs to determine which marinade was best. Tough call!

One of Justin’s favourite lunch items:

Halibut Taco: tempura halibut, housemade bacon, lettuce, tomato, shoestring potatoes, roasted jalapeño tartar sauce

Ishiyaki is a rice dish that is presented in a hot stone bowl: the ingredients are mixed at the table and allowed to cook a bit further to create yummy crispy edges. We have a few incarnations of this dish, some are vegetarian, involving mushrooms, some have pork in them, this one contains very tender braised beef:

Chipotle Beef Curry Ishiyaki

Mixing ishiyaki

Hapa Hot Wings, served with lemon wedge and fire extinguisher

Meeting over, only 2 hours later than anticipated. Beer time!

Who stayed until the end of this post? You get the recipe for the awesome Citrus Soy Salad Dressing which I’ve been figuring out as I work on this post:

Citrus Soy Salad Dressing

  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. Japanese soy sauce (not the dark Chinese kind); we are actually using gluten-free Tamari at the restaurants now but that’s up to you
  • 2 t. sugar or agave syrup
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 2 T.)
  • 3 capers
  • few sprigs parsley (this is a tough measurement; if you packed it together it would probably be less than a tablespoon)
  • 2 T. minced yellow onion

Give it a whiz in a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor just chop the solid ingredients very finely and shake in a jar. We serve this dressing with our Sashimi Salad and also our Midori Salad (simple green salad). You know I’m going to try it with quinoa to make a kind of Japanese quinoa salad. Stay tuned…

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1 Comment

Filed under Hapa Izakaya-related, Recipes

One response to “Behind the scenes at Hapa: the big kitchen meeting

  1. Recipe score! Great first shot although I think I may have to come down to the restaurants and help you guys out on the coffee front. Interesting insights into what happens behind the scenes and that last shot sure shows how well a potentially touchy subject went