On October 23rd, a group of Japanese food enthusiasts learned how to make kabocha ravioli and wild boar tagliatelle at Iri restaurant.
The class kicked off with a glass of bubbly and sardine toast. The students met their chef instructors, Charlie Hallowell and Chris Kronner, and were informed that all of the ingredients that they would use during the class were from in and around Tokyo.
When it was time to start cooking, the twenty-some students migrated to the bar to find themselves a spot with a view. The bar formed an “L” around the sunken kitchen, creating the perfect spectator pit.
Chris and Charlie went to work, with Charlie working the room as the translator tried to communicate exactly what needed to happen.
The kabocha should be roasted like this. The butter can be browned and then incorporated. The dough should be folded and cut like this.
Chris explained the braising process step by step and the students scribbled notes on their recipe sheets.
Charlie plated up the ravioli — daintily topped with fried sage, chrysanthemum, and local Tokyo honey — and Chris finished off the tagliatelle with his wild boar ragú.
After everyone had a chance to sample the pasta, and a few even got to try making some, the class slowly cleared out. A few women asked to take pictures with the chefs. When I saw a student ask Charlie to sign her Chez Panisse book I had to smile.
I am not sure if the students knew they would be learning to make pizza but I’m pretty sure they didn’t know they would be walking to a bakery nearby to bake it.
After learning about koji mold — the live culture essential for sake brewing — Charlie and Chris decided to try making both normal pizza dough and dough fermented with koji for their cooking class. The night before Charlie purchased a bag of koji at a bakery and the thus “koji pizza” was born.
Spicy bitter greens with pork belly, Tokyo Bay Squid, Clams with “clammaise,” and a Margherita — once again, all of the ingredients came from Japan, making it very possible for any one of the students to start their own pizza place in Tokyo if they wanted to. They learned about dough and the particular toppings of the evening at Iri, and then it was time to make some pizzas.
Picture a group of nicely dressed Japanese women carrying bowls of toppings and condiments down the street.
We used the ovens at Levain bakery down the street to bake our pizzas. Including the Levain staff and a few onlookers, there were about forty people crammed into the small kitchen observing Charlie pushing pizzas out of the oven. We sampled four kinds of pizza.
I have to say that koji pizza is pretty okay. Charlie said it didn’t rise as much as he would have liked but the flavor was more complex and made for a successful experiment.
Be on the lookout for a koji pizza place in Tokyo in the coming year.