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wa'z

Northwest kaiseki

Hiro Tawara really had no option. He had to open his own restaurant. After all, he'd been planning on being a chef since the age of 4. He's put in a lot of work between then and now, but his dream has finally come true with wa'z.

Learning to stir-fry sausage and make scrambled eggs at home in Japan, he got hooked on family approval. "It was fun, I wanted to cook for them," Hiro recalls. Sometime between the ages of 8 and 10, one of his favorite comic books was about food and a young man who worked at an authentic old-style Japanese restaurant. "I was impressed that they kept the traditional ways going. The young man smoked and when the Master let him make food as a test, he fired him because he could smell smoke on the food. I decided right then I would never smoke! The story had a big influence on me and I kept it in mind."

While in junior high school, he talked to his parents about skipping high school and going right to work in a kaiseki restaurant, like the guy in the comic book, making the traditional multi-course haute cuisine. "He was 15. When you're younger, your tongue is more sensitive and it's a good time to develop that sense of taste. My parents said no, go to high school and hopefully college. After talking for a long time, I decided to go to high school. When friends in high school started looking at college brochures, it looked fun. I decided I would take the exams and if I passed, I would go to college." He did pass and attended Doshisha University, taking business courses. He was thinking that when he opened his restaurant one day, he would need that business knowledge.

While in school, he lived with his grandmother, who taught the tea ceremony and knew the Master of the tea ceremony. "Four hundred years ago, kaiseki was a light meal taken before the start of the tea ceremony. My grandmother took me to a special tea ceremony with limited seating, very few people got to go. I was lucky to see this important part of Japanese culture and food. Kaiseki includes so many things: the plate, a flower, it all has to be right. Because of my grandmother, I was introduced to a very traditional restaurant, Kyoyamoto in Kyoto, and was able to work there. It's hard to get in without a connection. I liked the idea that I could keep that culture alive and share it with the next generation. So many things are being forgotten." He was 21 when he started at Kyoyamoto and stayed four years. "The hierarchy in restaurants is strong. I worked with someone who was 18 and he told me what to do and if I failed, penalty! It's not so structured now. But to move up, I had to go to another restaurant. I worked at several restaurants and then when I was 27 became an executive chef. It was a very small place: me, one helper and one server. Eight counter seats, two tables of four. There are many restaurants like this in Kyoto. I was there three years."

wa'z presentation

At the first restaurant, Hiro worked in the kitchen and rarely even spoke with coworkers. "If we talked, the chef would say 'Don't move your mouth, move your hands. Don't show your teeth in the kitchen.' When I was executive chef, my parents came to try my food. They told me I looked tense and serious. I had been trained not to smile. At McDonald's in Japan, they teach smiling in front of a mirror. I did it at home; it took a long time! At work, I was talking directly to customers and found that it was fun to tell them how something was prepared and why it was served at this moment. Kyoto cuisine is special, and people want to hear about it from the chef. I enjoyed entertaining the customers."

When Hiro was dating his future wife, she stayed for three months in Kamloops, B.C., to learn English. He visited her for a week, staying with her host family. "It was my first time in North America and it was beautiful. We talked about moving there. About 3-4 years after returning to Japan, we married and a year after that we talked about it again. Moving might not work, but we'll never know if we don't try. So she talked to her boss. She worked with Japanese students learning English outside of Japan. Her boss said that the owner of their company (retired) also owned a sushi restaurant in Seattle. So, we moved to Seattle instead of Canada in 2005 and I had a job at I Love Sushi in Bellevue. I stayed there five years. Our son was 9 months old when we moved. It was a stressful time for us. She was home with the baby and didn't have her mom or an aunt, or even a driver's license. I was stressed at work and didn't speak very good English. On my first day at the counter, two women came in and said they wanted to start with daikon. We use that as a garnish, but I'd never heard of anyone ordering it to start. But I put some shreds of daikon in bowls and gave it to them. They looked confused. They had actually ordered diet Coke!" Hiro ultimately became the general manager at I Love Sushi.

wa'z
411 Cedar Street
Seattle, WA 98121
206-441-7119

www.wazseattle.com


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