Round two with Sushi Sasa's Wayne Conwell
This is part two of my interview with Wayne Conwell, executive chef/owner of Sushi Sasa. In part one of that interview with Conwell, he dishes on working for Iron Chef Morimoto, the genius of Jeff Osaka and sushi "edibles."
Best recent food find: If you cook rice regularly at home, try haiga-mai, a half-milled rice. I've recently grown extremely fond of it, mainly because it tastes awesome, and it's healthier than white rice. The bran layer has been removed, but the germ -- haiga -- is left intact. Pacific Mercantile carries a couple of good brands, and when you try it, I'll bet you'll jump on the bandwagon, too. The only downside is that it's a little bit more expensive.
Favorite ingredient: Dashi -- bonito and konbu stock -- is a major component of many Japanese dishes and indispensable at Sushi Sasa. I feel a sense of meditation and daily reaffirmation when I make it -- even if I am constantly making small adjustments, chasing the unattainable perfect batch.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Verde Farms for its microgreens, especially the mizuna and amaranth. Josh Halder, who created Verde Farms, must be making a killing. Does Pinkberry yogurt count as a local ingredient? Anyway...I also love to use Pinkberry's original yogurt in my sparkling sake float.
Favorite spice: I love to use different salts in my dishes. Some salts add infused flavors, others give interesting textures, and some even lend subtle colors. I've learned much about salt from trial and error. When I dine out, my biggest complaint is when dishes are overly salty, and while I think I prefer a less-is-more approach as I get older, I still think that salt is extremely important as a finishing touch. I use Alderwood smoked sea salt on my monkfish liver plate, and it really amplifies all the subtle flavors, plus it gives it a level of sophistication. And, yes, I do realize that salt, by itself, really isn't a sp
Most underrated ingredient: Tomatoes are underrated, right? I love them, and you'll find them used one way or another in most of my dishes. I especially love to use raw tomatoes on our more modern sashimi creations.
Most overrated ingredient: Yuzu isn't exactly overrated, but it's definitely overused. Like the chefs caught in the trap of pumping truffle oil or truffles into every creation under the sun, the same is true for yuzu. At one point, it was only overused in Japanese cuisine, but now you find it everywhere. Why? Because it creates aroma and flavor, and its expense adds to the grandeur of fine dining. The biggest drawback is that the palate grows tired of it and then everything begins to taste the same. There was a time at Sasa when I had to have a chef meeting to address the subject, because most of our newer sauces and dressings had yuzu juice or peel as an ingredient, and I was getting flat-out burned out on it. Everyone realized what I was talking about -- and we were all in agreement -- so we started to wean a lot of our recipes off of the yuzu.