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wa'z, part 2

Northwest kaiseki

In part 1, Hiro shares his love of food from an early age and how he and his family came to Seattle where he worked at I Love Sushi in Bellevue.

When Shiro's in Belltown was purchased, Hiro's boss suggested he move there. "It was good timing because I wasn't really a sushi chef, I was a kaiseki chef, and I was worrying about how and if I could express myself as an authentic kaiseki chef. I Love Sushi had provided a working visa for me, and while working there, I got to see the differences between the traditional Japanese cuisine I was making in Kyoto and the more "modern" ones they were making, as well as the differences in culture. When I started at Shiro's, I was working at the counter next to Shiro-San and I watched how he worked. Instead of ordering pre-packaged and filleted fish, he would go the warehouse and pick out his own fish. He would get sea urchin locally. Then when his customers ordered salmon and tuna, he would put sea urchin on and say 'Just try it once. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it.' But then that person would come back later with a friend and tell them they had to try the sea urchin. He introduced people to new things and educated them, knowing they'd develop a taste for real Japanese food. I found my meaning again, I wanted to introduce kaiseki to people some day like Shiro-San. I worked with him for two years."

Chef Hiro Tawara

Taichi Kitamura, owner of Sushi Kappo Tamura on Eastlake, helped Hiro get his green card. "Shiro-San helped Taichi get his green card, so he was paying it forward with me," says Hiro. "I appreciated it and wanted to work for him. They have a kitchen menu as well as sushi. I worked both the bar and kitchen, and special events like Mother's Day." He stayed four years, then left in 2015 to start his own catering company (kaiseki at home) and did monthly pop-up events at the Atrium Kitchen in the Pike Place Market. He also did a wine pairing/kaiseki event at 8 Bells Winery in Ravenna. "I did this for more than three years. Then one of the guests who really liked my food gave me his business card and asked me to contact him. He is now my partner in the restaurant."

Over time, Hiro has developed his own style using Kyoto kaiseki techniques with local, seasonal ingredients. "Customers can enjoy ingredients they already know but cooked differently with a different flavor. Sometimes I can introduce something normally only available in Japan and I can explain how we use it there. After I opened the restaurant, Shiro-San came in to eat and give me some advice. One day he had herring eggs from Alaska. They can only be harvested by a native and he had a friend who could harvest. I'll also do traditional kaiseki menus for Japanese events like Girl's or Boy's Day. Each food/presentation has a story behind it. It's not just food, there's meaning. Explaining things to customers is a style I really like, like Shiro-San. In about 35 years, I'd like to be like Shiro-San in Seattle."

Hiro looked for almost a year for the right location for his restaurant. "I worked at a restaurant in Kyoto that was in a 100-year-old building that used to be a textile factory. I liked it and wanted something like it. This was a 90-year-old building that had originally housed a printing company. It was empty when I walked by one night and looked in the window. It was for lease and had an old brick wall and wood window frames. The owner already had an offer but wanted to see a business plan. I created a PowerPoint presentation, explained my concept, had pictures, and invited him to an Atrium Kitchen event. He liked the idea of bringing something new to the area and gave me the space." Hiro had a soft opening on March 16 and grand opening on March 28. "After helping me for a long time, my wife is pretty excited about the restaurant. We have agreed not to work together here; she has a job helping Japanese students in the U.S. Our son is 13 and daughter 8."

His menu changes monthly with totally different cooking styles and ingredients. "I have menus from over the years but decide the final menu when the season is here. Even when I decide, I can't always get the amount or type of ingredients I want, so things can change. I pick ingredients out nearly every day. We serve sake, wine and beer. No spirits, but maybe some day I will do Japanese whiskey." He doesn't cater anymore, but is planning on adding a screen to allow a semi-private area (eight seats) at the front of the restaurant. "I would like to do pop-up events again. I love the Market, and there's a long history of Japanese Americans being there."

Hiro understands that fine dining in Seattle is about comfort. "People are willing to pay for good food, but they don't want to be formal or stiff. My idea about Seattle fine dining is good food and a cordial atmosphere where people can relax and enjoy the food. I want to make this place like that. Eating at the counter is an experience. Seattle people are curious about other cultures and appreciate them. They enjoy the difference."

411 Cedar Street
Seattle, WA 98121

Click here to read part 1

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