Cafe Society

Round two with Sushi Sasa's Wayne Conwell

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One food you detest: I detest food that loses its natural identity. Test-tube creations are fun, and I love to draw inspiration just as much as the next guy from the envelope-pushing innovations of others, but can't we all agree that preserving some natural essence of the foods we prepare is important for the soul? I guess that I like food to look and taste like food, and I think molecular gastronomy, at least in most cases, should be limited to accenting the main ingredient.

One food you can't live without: Rice, but not just any rice. It needs to he high-quality and well-prepared Japanese rice. We even take rice and a small rice cooker with us when we go on vacation.

Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Keep the heart of our food grounded and Japanese; if nothing else, respect the food and take it seriously; communicate clearly and speak with a purpose, especially when we're busy; pretend you hear "please" and "thank you" even when you don't -- and say them whenever you can; bring a sense of humor, but leave the candy at home; and don't second-guess Wayne, because he has a plan, even if you don't yet understand what it is.

Biggest kitchen disaster: One Friday night, one of my chefs, whose name I won't mention -- it's Eiji Otsuki -- punctured a lit propane torch with the tip of his knife during service. The flames and fire alarm, which followed, cleared the entire restaurant -- with the exception of one calm woman sitting at the sushi bar, who was left behind by her date, because he was so overwhelmed by his "flight instinct." The man fled the restaurant, but not before falling out of his seat and transforming into a backward-walking, spiderlike creature. He eventually disappeared out the front door screaming, "The place is going to blow!" After we managed to get the situation under control and the smoke cleared, many of the patrons returned, including the gentleman who fled -- and there was his lady friend seated at the bar calmly sipping her sake. I couldn't help being embarrassed by the fire and the whole situation. It was a scary disaster, but we were lucky, because it could have been so much worse. I often wonder what happened to the couple....

What's never in your kitchen? Crybabies.

What's always in your kitchen? Nimono, which are stewed Japanese vegetables, along with other traditional sides, which I add to my dishes to promote traditional Japanese cuisine. I like to expose people to these items in small doses, although when patrons ask for larger appetizer-size portions of our sides, it's heartwarming to know that they get it. I feel good about introducing traditional items in this manner because it challenges the palate, but it's less likely to push people out of their comfort zone.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson