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Umami Kushi

Yuzu koshio and curry pan

How does a kid from Chicago end up cooking nationwide and in Japan, avoiding near disaster in New Orleans, and building a catering company specializing in Japanese street foods in Seattle? It's a pretty interesting story, actually.

Harold Fields helped his mother cook for laborers. "I still remember heavy cast iron skillets, and country-style food," he recalls. He later worked at an Italian restaurant. "One day I heard the owner shouting at someone. I witnessed him chasing a bread delivery guy, throwing bread and telling him never to bring old bread again. To this day, the lesson that bread has to be fresh, fresh, fresh stays with me. I learned a lot about quality from him."

He went on to Cheesecake Factory when they opened their sixth restaurant (Chicago). Harold stayed with the company for 11 years, opening 15 locations around the country. "When I started, they made everything from scratch, including 80 sauces and their pizza dough." Moving to San Diego with the company, he met Chef Melvin Johnson, part owner of a soul food restaurant named The Juk Joint Jazz Bistro that focused on organic soul, Southern style cuisine with a California spin. "Melvin taught me to make gumbo and crawfish étouffée. The restaurant was a jazz club and big names from LA would play there: non-stop stars. It was Melvin and me in the kitchen doing food for 80. He taught me how to execute consistently. It was the first open kitchen I'd worked in and things had to be clean at all times. It really shaped me. I spent two years there."

Cheesecake Factory moved Harold to Seattle to open downtown in 2001. "This was where my life took a turn. My girlfriend, now wife, and I loved Seattle. This was the cooking I wanted to do. Cheesecake Factory was just handing off their proprietary recipes to a commissary, so it was the perfect time to leave." Harold became opening executive chef at Taphouse Grill in Bellevue, working with owner Paul Reder. "We had a great relationship. He's very passionate about the experience." Harold stayed at Taphouse for two years.

Next stop was New Orleans. "I worked for Al Copeland, the creator of Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits. My time in New Orleans taught me about lagniappe; Southern hospitality. I learned about service. It's little things, like not topping off ice tea. People make theirs perfect with lemon or sugar; it's not the same if you top it off. Al had a restaurant called Sweet Fire & Ice. I worked there through August 2005. My wife's dad died in Japan, so I sent her and my son. I realized it was an epic moment and I should be there. I quit my job, got a ticket to Japan, and drove to Phoenix to see my mom. I left on a Friday morning, driving to avoid this tropical storm Katrina. By Sunday, I was calling a friend to get the important stuff out of the house and get himself somewhere safe. He was on the last flight out of New Orleans before the airport closed."

Yuzu koshio condiment

Harold's world completely changed in Japan. "I was stunned by the passion people have for food in Japan. People dedicate their lives to mastering one task. It was mind blowing. I felt the connection to things I'd learned in my career." In late 2005, the family returned to New Orleans. At their house, the car was covered in mold, and only two units (theirs and another) remained standing. "It was haunting. We got the last U-Haul and drove to Phoenix where I met a guy opening a yakitori/sushi/katsu restaurant. He was the CFO of a company in Japan and hired me to be his chef. But he wanted me to understand the food. He flew my family to Japan, paid my transportation to and from work, and I worked for free for two months, 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, learning everything: yakitori grills, tempura and soba stations. I was the only one in the kitchen who spoke English; we used phones to translate what they taught me."

In Arizona, Harold brought in charcoal from Japan, designed grills, wrote recipes, worked the yakitori bar, created the Jidori chicken program and brought in Kurobuta pork for katsu. After eight months, the restaurant closed and he moved to Wigwam, a fine dining steak house on a golf course. He then opened Red's, another steak spot where he stayed close to a year. The family moved to Seattle, where Harold worked at Earth & Ocean with Chef Adam Stevenson. He stayed a year, moving to The Golf Club at Newcastle as sous chef, staying until 2011. He then moved to the Space Needle as sous chef where he is today.

Harold with curry pan

Eight years ago, Harold started his catering company, Umami Kushi, which does yakitori catering. Between stints at Newcastle and the Space Needle, he and his wife created a recipe for curry pan, a grab and go snack found throughout Japan. "The Tin Umbrella Coffee Roasters started carrying them and it got a following. I made doughnuts from leftover dough and gave them away. Now they're being ordered. People appreciate the quality, and there's a market. Beef in brioche dough, flash fried: the perfect afternoon snack." Find them at Empire Espresso, The Station Coffee, All City Coffee, The Conservatory, Tougo Coffee, Q.E.D. Coffee Roaster, Avole.

Harold began making yuzu koshio, a popular Japanese condiment, after paying too much in a store. "I make it with local shishito peppers, pure yuzu juice, and Japanese sea salt. Marx Foods wanted to carry it." Within 14 days, Harold worked with the Department of Agriculture, found bottles, designed a label. It's now carried at Cone & Steiner, Liberty Bar (sushi), Naka Bar (drink), Two Doors (burger), and sold at Mutual Fish.

Yakitori catering, Yuzu Koshio, curry pan, and brioche donuts would satisfy, but there's more coming from Harold. Keep an eye out.

Harold Fields

 206-265-1923

harold@umamikushi.com

www.umamikushi.com

 

 

 

Connie Adams/April 2016


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