Back of the House: Daily Update

From the 48th Floor of Park Hyatt Tokyo, as a guest of the property, I have views of the distant harbor and the great expanse of the city.

Unagi in a quick bento, pool awaits, meetings, etc., and then another evening with the estimable Shinji.

Earlier today a lovely ride on the Shinkansen from Kanazawa.  Was that Fuji-san?  Yes, it was!

Meanwhile news that the National Restaurant Association has me on their online brochure next to Anthony Bourdain as headliners.  Oh, my.

And BACK OF THE HOUSE is back to #1 nationally in professional books on cooking on Kindle…and that’s pre-sales!

The sun is bright: This winter in Tokyo is so lovely.

Noto beef last night, anago, cho-toro from blue fin, and way too much sake.

Meanwhile, in Boston, skulking…



Back of the House: Less than a week and still…

My goodness, but the news comes tumbling in: yesterday, the Boston Phoenix ran a lovely Q & A about Back of the House conducted by the estimate Cassandra Landry:

Holy Henry Kissinger!

And on the very same day, Boston magazine ran its, as promised, 4000 word excerpt from the book:

Nice, nice, nice.

As if that wasn’t enough, the book is now #3 in professional cooking at Amazon: And that’s pre-sales as it is not even available until 2/5/13.

Meanwhile, escaping the hubbub, I’m here in Kanazawa at Beniya Mukaya, a ryokan where I’d stayed once before, sipping red wine and looking out onto an industrial valley while enjoying the drop in blood pressure subsequent to hot bath #4 of the day.

Lunch was kamo and soba.  Dinner will be fugu sashimi and Noto beef.

Paint it black!

Back of the House: Hitting the Stands

Tomorrow–or today in Japan, where it’s akegata, sun peeping before dawn–Back of the House appears in a 4000 word excerpt in Boston magazine.  A taste of the book.

Speaking of tastes, the eki-ben of grilled pork belly–though the box showed unagi–with two cold ones in view of Fuji-san: Lovely!  And then to arrive at The Kayotei for hot springs followed by a long kaiseki dinner of mountain vegetables, buri, and Noto beef?  Oh, my goodness.  This kitchen is the best I’ve enjoyed in Japan.

In-between we’re talking naps and a short Japanese novel about a despairing man.

Get that man into the hot springs!


Tokyo: What You See and What You Get

Day one of my tenth visit to Tokyo began with a three mile run after five hours of sleep, and continued on with a walk through Hibiya Koan, the park adjacent to the moat and the imperial palace.  The air was cold and clear in winter light.  From there it was a stroll through Ginza, which is this neighborhood, to take in the long legged fashion show.

Meeting up with the estimable Shinji, we walked to Tokyo station and validated our train passes and took the JR to Shinjuku to join the estimable Rumiko, my friend the sake brewer, and then we all had a lively lunch of tonkatsu.

A restaurant that serves one dish only and does it to perfection.  There are lessons in that focus.

Back to Isetan department store to buy konbu and miso with barley and koji.

A late coffee to stay conscious: The Japanese are coffee fanatics!

And now a breather before steak with Yuko.

Exhausting, but enervating, strangely enough, and in that paradox another lesson.





It’s 4:58 A.M. on the East Coast of the United States, and 6:58 P.M. here in Japan, where overlooking a long stretch of road that cuts through Ginza, I am enjoying the pleasant disorientation as well as fatigue that stems from over 15 hours in the air and the passage into a very different time zone from point of origin.

To my right is Hibaya Koan, a park abutting the imperial path, and it seems likely that tomorrow I’ll be back on its paths with the runners.

Until then it’s going to be Yakitori Time with friends, Shinji and Takeshi, and a mighty effort to stay conscious.

The city seems unusually quiet and empty tonight.  Full moon.  No wolves baying, but they’re out there.



This is Planet Japan Calling. Can You Hear Us?

At Logan now, beside a large, slanted window with views East of the harbor and Long Island and the tarmacs with planes ascending and the sun rising.  Earlier it was a jaunt in ten degree weather with big, sniffing dogs in their heyday as I gradually lost most sensation in my toes and fingers.

Planet Japan’s signals have been getting louder and the first leg of the trip will take us to Detroit.  From there a brief layover and then the long flight across the International Dateline and then views of a distant, cold archipelago.

They are putting out the alcoholic beverages for the dissolute.  A TV offers a smudged sound from the next room.  A man says, “hey,” into his cell phone, and then, “Don’t kill yourself, I know you have a busy day, don’t get jammed on my account, love you.”

The black coffee creates a dullness.  A new memoir by Eddie Huang reviewed in today’s NYT sounds very good although the writer, Dwight Garner refers to Mr. Huang’s hometown of Orlando, Florida as, “America’s least interesting city,” an egregious and ironically insecure remark rather than a keen observation.

Sumimasen, Anata wa watashi no itte iru koto ga kikoeru?”

Yes, I hear you, Japan, I hear you!”


Jobs, Jobs, Jobs…Jobs!

With national unemployment figures for black youth at 28% and for Hispanic youth at 18%, ages 16-25, you would think that food writers would focus on the need to get people jobs in the hospitality industry.  But no.  For the past few months writers like Marc Bittman have been calling for a tax on sugary soda, which is a tax opposed by the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation, and NYC’s Latino and Asian caucuses on the City Council.

By the way, unemployment for white youth is 14.9%.

Here’s a link to a piece about the soda controversy in today’s New York Times:

Bittman accuses the NAACP of profiting from its ties to the soda industry, and he accuses the soda industry of, “playing the race card.”

Actually, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

The NAACP does benefit from contributions from Coca-Cola, as noted in the NYT’s article: “Coca-Cola has donated tens of thousands of dollars to a health education program, Project HELP, developed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.”

Further,  the article notes: “Mr. Bloomberg’s plan, the brief argued, would disproportionately hurt minority-owned small businesses, which faced competition from larger convenience stores like 7-Eleven that would be exempt from the soda restrictions because of a quirk in New York’s regulatory structure.”

Wouldn’t it be great if the passion and intensity devoted to tax on sugary soda was redirected towards finding jobs for minority youth?

After unemployment among blacks and Hispanics falls to the same rates or lower than the white kids?  Yeah, then let’s talk about soda, pops.

Planet Japan

No nation embodies better the hybridization so characteristic of modern life than Japan, and on Friday, by boarding a plane, I’ll touch down on its frozen soil late Saturday afternoon for my tenth trip over.  I get filled up, ironically, by its silences, by what is left unsaid there, and the unspoken phrases and observations help lead to improvisation and recollections.  No wonder old school jazz is the rage in Japan as well as a backwards look at confining, rigid traditions.

The plan is to bathe a lot and nap a lot on matted floors and see friends and try to come up with the place needed to establish authority over troubling stories of loss.  That is the next book, and that is the challenge: How do you write about tragic events while creating a safe place for others looking in?

The great jazz musicians did it, from Armstrong through Ellington and the Count, to Coltrane, Miles, Pepper, and Evans: Until the mid to late ’60’s the music was not cacophonous; the events around it were.

Food certainly is the sound we’re talking about–the pleasure needed to embrace the loss.  But what about going directly into the depths of the loss that inspired that need for pleasure?

Does the result have to be a noisy barrage of histrionic anthems or self-referential rant?

That’s where Japan comes in: Return to nothingness, find an originality and start from that point and take small steps towards precise observation.

Open your heart and close your mouth.


Back of the House: This just in…

The dogs pace restlessly while envying anything that moves outdoors in the dusting of snow that fell last night, but they have had their first walk and coffee is still to be drunk in the golden colored press.  They will have to wait.  They can wait.

Yesterday, a lovely piece about, “Back of the House,” appeared on this site:  I mean, wow, right? Here are smidges from the piece:

“If you’ve ever contemplated a career in the restaurant industry or if you’ve ever been curious about how chefs and their crews manage to produce hundreds of unique meals every night, you’ll love this book…You could call this book ’embedded culinary journalism.’…While Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential offers readers an illuminating (and often disturbing) glimpse into the mind of a star chef, Scott Haas’ Back of the House gives outsiders a more rounded view of what goes on in the kitchen, from the dishwasher to the sous chef to the chef-owner…Frankly, if you’re a small-business owner looking for tips on how to better manage your employees and yourself, you’ll find innumerable real-life examples in Back of the House. And if you’re a fan of eating out (who isn’t?), you’ll have a greater appreciation of how good restaurants make those stunning dishes night after night.”

Later today there’s an interview with The Boston Phoenix and just up ahead?  I see the dorsal fin of a very big fish.

What’s noteworthy, too, is the foment taking place as I think about the next book: I’ve written a long version, over 200 pages, and it’s fine, but what I’m working on now?  The events preceding exile and the events over the past few years.  Why, just yesterday I learned that Gramps was incarcerated for three weeks during the race riots of ’38 and held at a prison called Dora.

“He was accused of having seven rifles in the house,” my uncle told me yesterday.  He laughed to expunge grief and disappointment.  “Seven rifles.  He didn’t even have one.”

Tonight?  Roasted baby chicken with dried porcini and roasted Japanese pumpkin.  Back, history!  Back!


Say Cheese!

Is cheese a metaphor for something?  The holes?  The stink?  The textures?  The way it fills us up?

I didn’t think so either.  It just tastes good.

Take Hannahbells.  It’s a small, family owned company in Westport, Massachusetts, I’d not heard of until today. Leo Brooks, at least that’s who I think it was, who informed me that he is married to a woman who is a friend of one of the brothers, was giving out samples at Shaw’s in Allston.  According to the company website, Mr. Brooks also flies or flew planes for Continental Airlines.

“This is your captain speaking: Altitude of 30,000 feet, cheese up ahead.”

These are acorn sized, cow’s milk, soft cheeses, with a thin rind that are shaped like thimbles.  I sampled the “classic French” and rosemary flavored ones and I’m here to tell you that there are really delicious.  Dunno why they call them “classic French,” but I guess that’s a nod to their Brie like flavor and texture.  Anyhoo, as Ma would say, or was it Gertrude Stein?  A cheese by any other name would taste as good.

You can find the cheeses online at:

Love that name.

Later the very same day, talk about synergy, and they say there are no invisibilities, I bumped into Ihsan Gurdal, owner of Formaggio Kitchen, in his store and then and there he said, “Let’s have a party for your new book…Back of the House.”  (Stop what you’re doing, go to Amazon, buy ten.  You have friends and family; show them you love them with a copy of this book.)

I think Ihsan will serve cheese at the party.  Lucky guess, right?