Serving Our Willing Warriors- a Taste of Japan

Happy Veteran’s Day! I thought today was an appropriate one to catch up with you and share an opportunity I’ve had to show a veteran some appreciation. There’s an organization called SOWW, Serving Our Willing Warriors, in Bull Run of Haymarket, Virginia. They offer retreat getaways to veterans in some form of recovery and invite chefs to visit and prepare them their finale meal at the end of their retreat stay.
I had the privilege to cook a meal for the family and friends of Sargent Major. No seriously that was her name- Major. Her wish-list went in a number of directions, nearly overwhelming my ambitious imagination, but I ran with her expressed desire for Asian food and steak and mushrooms, especially considering that recently, I’ve been on a Japan kick. It’s been just over a year since I left, and everyday I learn more and more how much I actually miss it. What I miss most are the friends; the food is just an easier way to access the memories had with them.
Hoping for a little inspiration, I popped in to a restaurant that had been on my list for a while, Nasime in Alexandria, where a 5 course fixed menu is offered. To be honest it just made it harder to focus in on a menu. I had even spoken to Chef Zack, that Navy friend that has owned the culture. He tried to help me keep it simple (but I strayed).
I also found this awesome grocery store in DC called Hana Mart, with all the foods and snacks and brands I hadn’t seen to often over the past year: persimmon, mochi, kit-kats (the Japanese ones), nikuman… The Japanese was buzzing in my ears, reviving the otherwise dying language.

Anywho, I ended up serving

  • edamame as a quick snack
  • citrus chicken (napa) cabbage cups with fried renkon (lotus root) and sprinkled with a yuzu seasoning
  • soba bowls with a mushroom-konbu dashi, seasoned egg, and tempura of kabocha squash and shrimp
  • wafu marinated steaks, grilled and topped with mushrooms and gobo chips (burdock root) with potatoes and chili-garlic vegetables
  • and white miso, salted caramel brownies with a matcha cream. (I hadn’t called ahead to confirm there was an ice cream maker.)
  • citus chicken cabbage cup

I had given this too much thought and struggled to settle on a plan. I felt stress and frustration and feared failure- looking at the way things were turning out. Deepened my respect for the awesome professionals I’ve worked with and those I’ve seen from afar. Thankfully, while I’ve clearly still got plenty of lessons to learn and room for improvement, one lesson I have been able to practice is that it ain’t about me! The plates I served weren’t the ones I imagined. But my guests didn’t know that. They didn’t’ care. They offered their compliments and demonstrated their satisfaction, and I humbly, though stubbornly accepted it. If your audience is satisfied, don’t ruin their experience by insisting they see the mess backstage. 

A big thanks to Chefs Larry, Dan, Melody and Trinity who helped make this happen.

(Would love to hear your thoughts below. Photos up shortly @ChefTasteBud on Facebook.)

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