Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Soba master demonstrates the art of making noodles at Tei An on Tuesday
Diners got to see up close how Japanese soba noodles are made.
DALLAS In Tei An, the Arts Plaza restaurant by chef Teiichi "Teach" Sakurai, Dallas has one thing that many cities do not: a true-blue soba house where the chef makes the noodles himself. To learn how to make the best noodles, Teach went to the Tsukiji Soba Academy in Tokyo, where he studied with soba master Akila Inoue.
On Tuesday, the teacher visited the student. Toting a batch of freshly harvested buckwheat flour from Japan, Inoue stopped at Tei An to offer a pair of demonstrations on making noodles before a crowd of regular customers and the requisite pack of foodies (they should get badges).
Presiding over a massive wooden board at the end of the soba bar, Inoue showed the artisanal way of making soba by hand, employing the three basic steps, seen floating as a screen-saver on the laptop behind him: "Mix it, flatten it, fold and cut it." Then, everyone got to try the noodles he'd made, next to a serving of Tei An's house noodles for comparison, with dipping sauces and condiments.
Before Inoue began, Teach offered customers morsels of raw tuna from a stunning 600-pound Mediterranean bluefin (see photo of massive tuna in photo gallery); he cut each bite to order and submerged it in a garlicky soy bath before serving. "The whole fish cost $7,000 and we got the very best section," he whispered.
Next, servers brought out pieces of "Kisu tempura" -- small whitefish with tiny tails for handles, fried in the light tempura batter. And then the demonstration began. In a giant flat stainless steel bowl, Inoue mixed the flour and water until he got a floury pebble mix that would look familiar to anyone who's made pie crust. He brought it together into a knob, then kneaded it, just as you would bread dough.
But the next step was unique: Using a set of rollers and measuring discs, he took the thick knob and flattened it to a mere millimeter. He rolled it, then rolled it flatter, then stretched it, then rolled it some more until it was as flat and flawless as a piece of paper. Once it had reached the desired thinness -- 1.6 millimeters, he said -- he folded it into a rectangle, measuring it to make sure the dimensions were correct for perfect noodles.
The entire process took nearly an hour and got him sweating under his crisp chef jacket and hat.
"He's doing two kilos," said Teach. "I can only do one kilo. But that doesn't mean he's got bigger muscles than me."
Finally, he pulled out a fierce, unusually-shaped cleaver, spurring an awe-struck sigh from the crowd, and a wooden measure, and cut the noodles with machine-like precision. Moments later, the noodles were delivered to diners on bamboo screens. It was fun to compare the two noodles: Teach's were squarer and firmer, while Inoue's were more pale and damp.
And then all of a sudden it was 8:30 and people attending the second class were clustered around the bar, scrambling for a seat. You can expect to see many reports on the event, as nearly every person in the 7 p.m. class had some kind of camera, and The Brad was there documenting it with both camera and video.
Inoue was on his way to Los Angeles, where he'll be conducting three workshops at a shop in Venice, so Dallas basically got him as a drive-by; we can thank Teach's noodle perfectionism for the visit.
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