The author, Kentaro Kobayashi, is a young man with both talent and passion. He started his working life as an illustrator but soon displayed his flair for food. (He gets that from his mum who is an award-winning cookbook author.) His motto has always been “easy yet delicious, stylish yet realistic”. He has featured in magazines and on television where he represents the new generation of cooks. His Veggie Haven has been nominated by the Paris Book Fair and Gourmand as one of 2009’s Best Cookbooks of the Year. Not too shabby!
It’s called Easy Japanese Cooking but that might give the impression that it concerns traditional Japanese fare. I prefer to think of it as Easy Contemporary Japanese Cooking. The Japanese, along with the rest of the world, are becoming more global in their food horizons and Kentaro has no prejudice when it comes to introducing Western ingredients into his larder. Appetizer Rex is a volume that shows the acceptable face of fusion cuisine, and does it in a fun way.
Just think of appetizers or hors d’oeuvres and we conjure thoughts of convivial gatherings. These little dishes are not taxing to prepare but choose the right ones to match your guests, along with their drinks, and success is assured. There are no worries about preparing a balanced meal: appetizers are not meals in themselves, they are little ‘amuse-gueules’ as the French would poetically describe them.
Kentaro offers us his usual mix of lively ingredients combined with thoughtful but simple presentation. There are a few recipes that will be somewhat familiar to Western readers – for example, Nachos, Tomato Salsa, and Tomato and Olive Bruschetta are well loved standards, but my advice would be to consider the lesser-known dishes that will be not only delicious but great conversation pieces.
Wasabi Butter Beef will be a winner with the carnivores. A simple dish to prepare but sliced beef always contrives to look luxurious. Ribs with Green Onions will also help to slake manly appetites. Sunny-side Up Beef is a good way of using up leftover Sunday roast. A striking presentation of sauced meat and an egg yoke.
Fried Rice Balls would be an exotic alternative to crisps (chips). Serve them with some good flavourful Japanese condiments for a healthier but substantial snack. Two-Way Fritters are ideal for those who must have a fried-food fix. They are an agreeable combination of corn, ham and shrimp. They are said to stay crisp even when cooled so a good choice for a drinks party.
My absolute favourite dish will have my dear reader reeling in horror. Whelks! WHELKS? Yes, and you should try them. Kentaro has a Whelk Sauté which has few ingredients, is simple to make and economic as well. I would perhaps counsel that you slice the shellfish rather than leaving them whole. The whelks found off British coasts are large and, I must admit, unattractive. Don’t tell your guests what they are eating and they will love them.
Easy Japanese Cooking – Appetizer Rex is another winner from Kentaro Kobayashi. He continues to offer dishes that are simple but impressive. Always something unique and stunning. Don’t stop now, Kentaro, I await the next volume.
Easy Japanese Cooking – Appetizer Rex
Author: Kentaro Kobayashi
Published by: Vertical Inc. New York
Price: $14.95 US, £10.99
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018