Q & A With Hideo Yamashiro, Part 2: The Importance of Cheese, Making People Happy + Why All It Takes is One Dish

In yesterday's first part of our interview with Hideo Yamashiro, the chef talked about fusion cuisine and his path from juggling knives at Benihana to pairing cheese and wine at Orris, his 6 year-old restaurant on Sawtelle Boulevard. In the second part of the interview (turn the page) Yamashiro resumes the discussion. And check back later for Yamashiro's recipe for curry-infused shrimp tempura, if you should feel like making it at home instead of ordering it at his restaurant, where the dish is currently on the menu.

Orris chef-owner Hideo Yamashiro
Orris chef-owner Hideo Yamashiro
Naomi Iwamoto

Squid Ink: What are some of your favorite foods?

Hideo Yamashiro: I can't eat as much as I used to; before I used to eat cheese almost every day. I love the flavor. Some of my favorites are Spanish goat cheese, sheep milk and Roquefort cheese.

SI: You use a good amount of cheese in your menu at Orris.

HY: Cheese is just wonderful. So much character. Cheese is so, so different. Different areas have different flavors that tells a story. Wine is the same. Even if you make them [cheeses] the same way, each cave has different bacterias that brings a different flavor. Its not like the American McDonald's model, where you eat here and you taste the same flavor at different places. All cheese has a different character. I love how it's not the same. Cheeese. Oh, I love cheese. So much flavor. I used to eat cheese everyday but I have to watch my cholesterol now. Otherwise...

In France, how many different styles? I don't use as much cheese as Italian restaurants, but we use maybe four or five types: Manchego, burrata, Parmesan and a selection of cheeses from our cheese plate.

SI: Any favorite places to eat cheese?

HY: I love Ricky Moreno's food at Capo. I like his cooking. His flavors are very elegant and creative. His one dish: four cheese ravioli with white truffles. A little pricey, but so good. For me, its the most memorable dish in L.A. in the last ten years.

SI: Anywhere else?

HY: I also like Sushi Zo. Very traditional. I like to eat individually, so its a perfect place for that. But because of the recession I cannot go out as often as I would like. L.A. is kind of expensive for what I pay for because of rent and labor. For going to a 3 star restaurant, I'd rather go overseas and spend that money. Sure we have talented chefs in this country but talented chefs sometimes become money chasers. They open one restaurant, then a second and then many more and... no way you can make good food like that.

SI: So, you don't eat out a lot in L.A.?

HY: I don't go anymore. Its very inconsistent. One day good, the next day its another story. I don't feel like going out in L.A. anymore. I used to go to sushi places a lot, very consistent. I also love Mexican food. Mexican food is not complicated but there's a lot of flavor there.

Sure, I want to go to French restaurants but I don't know anymore. Not too many restaurants anymore. I'm just disappuointed. A lot of chefs are going to be mad at me. I criticize other chefs becase they cook with their [points to head] and not their [points to heart]. It's different. Cooking has become so academic. You go to school and get a recipe. Even if you have 1,000 recipes, if you don't have [points to heart], you have nothing. When I make a mistake cooking, it hurts. I want to make food as if I'm on a first date with a girl. That kind of meal.

I don't change my menu that often, but I make sure it's satisfying so that you want to eat it again. Eat it tomorrow or a week later and people want to still eat those dishes. I don't want to be fancy-shmancy, like cookbooks. My food is not visual. Our society is too visualized from T.V. and magazines. Too many pictures. People judge with their eyes; it's not only food but now everything is judged by how it looks. But I don't think my food is like that. It doesn't mean I don't care... but our society is just too visual.

SI: So, why do you cook?


HY: For me, I see customers' happy face and it feels good. That's why I say, I'm not smart. I don't have a thousand recipes like some other chefs. Mine are very limited, but a good few. When people pay money and smile when they are leaving... I don't know how to explain the feeling it gives me. As much as you can everyday, you better see the happy face because when you see the happy face you're not gonna get mad. I have a very good job. If I had a different life I would like to be a comedian because of smiles and laughing, if I had that talent. You don't want to see people with sad faces. It's not only me; it's most of my crew. They feel the same way. People happy, they're happy.

SI: You mentioned earlier about feeling hurt when you make a mistake.

HY: I make mistakes constantly, but I quickly fix them. I want to be consistent. But I still make mistakes. Cooking is an organic thing. Like if you serve something you don't like, putting out stuff that isn't up to par. Let's say sauce. When we cook sauce, we use vegetables, but carrots... from time to time the sweetness is different. If it's too sweet, we try to adjust it, but its a little difficult sometimes.

I let the staff taste everyday. They are the best indicators of the quality of food. I cannot eat everything. So I say okay, You guys try. Sometimes they have different opinions. We minimize mistakes because we taste the food and they know what I want. For example, orange roughy. The first day it's nice, second day it's okay, and by the third day the sweetness is gone. If the sweetness is gone, I cook it for my employees' meal. I loose money but its okay. Some fish are like that. They are not like meat. They just drop. Happens with halibut and orange roughy.

SI: So you don't see a third restaurant in the future?

HY: I want to, but I first would have to find a good chef. But I can't find a good chef here in America, because they don't make good money unless they get famous. When I used to work in the kitchen I felt like a slave because the waiter made more money than me. Once you make a name, then you can start making money. You become an owner or part owner. That's not what American young people want to do. Many just want to make money. Why do young people want to become chefs? Not because of the happy face... many want to be a famous chef. That's our society. Everyone wants to be a star. Cooking is not that; sometimes its behind the scenes. When a chef becomes very famous, they are more in front of the screen. This job, sometimes it's too much work. I get up at 5 a.m., go shopping. You have to love it, not because you're going to be famous. I'm just a dinosaur. But I wish young people had more of this kind of mentality. You don't have to be a star chef like Wolfgnag Puck on TV. Just do what you love: that's what I want to tell people.

SI: Any other advice for people who want to work in the culinary world?

HY: If you don't enjoy eating food, don't be a chef. You have to enjoy it. If you don't like to listen to good music, don't be a musician. Its a long project, you cannot be famous in an instant. It takes years and years. Its hard. Oh, and one thing, just please when you make food, please start by pleasing one person. That's cooking. Not pleasing lots of people. You cannot please everybody because everyone has a different palate. Please, one person. And start from there. Cook like you're cooking for a girl on a first date.

Lots of recipes: that's bullshit. Just one dish, one person. That's where you start. You make one really good dish, you make one person happy. You don't need a thousand recipes. You just need one really good recipe. Then, you go on to the second. Slowly. If everything is mediocre, people think they can eat that dish anywhere. Even one boiled egg should be better than anybody else's. I'm getting older; some young people say "bullshit Shiro." I have a different philosophy than other people. You do anything, you become number one. Just be number one, one day. I believe in what I'm doing. And, I talk too much. But I really believe this. A thousand steps starts from one step. Just one step. One dish. Today.

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