Portrait of the Artist: Chef Sotohiro Kosugi
These days, there is no shortage of chefs who pretend to be artists, but sadly there are too few that actually possess a truly artistic sensibility. Chef Sotohiro Kosugi, of NYC’s Soto restaurant, is the real deal. Not only is his food delicious, but each plate, bowl, or martini glass that arrives at your table has been assembled with an eye toward color, composition, and texture.
In an age of “molecular gastronomy,” it’s refreshing to eat at a restaurant where the most frequently used tool in the kitchen is a knife. Don’t get me wrong—liquid nitrogen and other techniques can be wonderful in the right hands, but they should only be a means to an end. When a technique becomes the focus of a dish, the latter is doomed to failure nine times out of ten. Although most of the folks who rely on kitchen wizardry know HOW to use their tools, they often haven’t got a clue as to WHAT they’re trying to achieve with them.
Mind you, this problem is not unique to chefs; it happens in just about every field. The equivalent in journalism would be the author who opts for the ten-dollar word when a five-cent alternative would be far better. (I’m looking at you, writers who trot out “bespoke” in every other article.) Their word choices take the reader out of their story to say, “Hey, look at how clever I am.” There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with mannered phrasing—or esoteric kitchen tools—but let’s agree to save them for those times they actually add something to the equation.
The other thing that’s so refreshing about chef Sotohiro is that he’s actually in his restaurant, working behind the sushi bar, throughout your entire meal. I’m not saying that chefs don’t have the right to escape the kitchen now and again, and every restaurant’s style of food and approach to service are different, but when you’re spending more time in front of a camera than a cutting board, you may have a problem. Some of our “celebrity chefs” could learn a thing or two from a gentleman like Mr. Kosugi.
To this I can speak firsthand, because I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the chef a little. Several years ago, I introduced him to my friend Mikel Zeberio, a journalist and mensch from Bilbao, Spain. Together, Mikel and I have referred and/or accompanied some of Spain’s most famous chefs to Soto. When it comes to food and wine, Mikel suffers no fools (you can read more about him in a feature that I wrote about Basque food for Saveur a few years ago); he is known for his blunt but honest critiques of even the most revered Spanish restaurants. But Mikel has never had anything but praise for chef Sotohiro, and after watching the latter in action and eating the food that he, his wife, Maho, and his team so lovingly craft, I understand why.
A meal at Soto is not cheap, but it’s worth every penny.
Here are a few images of some of the dishes we ate last Saturday night. (As always, my apologies to the chef and the readers of this blog for the subpar iPhone photos, which do not do chef Sotohiro’s food justice. One of these days, I will get myself a proper camera.)
Broiled freshwater eel with vinegar dashi soy sauce & Japanese cucumber
Wild snapper carpaccio with aged wine vinegar, sesame oil, cilantro & chopped ginger shoots
Miso soup with lobster stock and uni purée
Toro tartare topped with avocado coulis, caviar, chive and nori in a sesame ponzu sauce
Sea trout carpaccio with black truffle sea salt & caviar; watercress in a sweet miso dressing
My favorite: Sea urchin wrapped in squid, finished with a quail egg atop a “nest” of nori
Two very happy diners…
Soto, 257 6th Avenue, New York (212-414-3088)