Wendy’s World: Japan

Happy 2020! In the New Year, we will be sharing weekly soundbites from our Founder, Wendy Pashman, about the adventures, inspirations, and ephemera which are capturing her imagination – and translating into EC concepts. First up: Japan.

What will EC offer in the New Year? What are the food trends that will impact what we suggest to our clients? What’s the “process” for developing new menus? Fancy trend prognostications aside, we’re basically checking our gut. What are our current obsessions? Reading? Neighborhoods, places in the world? We’re assuming that our clients will share our fascination. That’s our system.

Over the holiday, plowing through 500 pages of fave author Haruki Murakami (“Killing Commendatore”), my mind and taste buds buzzed with all things JAPAN. I am often inspired by cuisines from the latest book I’ve enjoyed. Murikami’s meandering writing style certainly mirrors how I often wander around into various Chicago neighborhoods making food discoveries. If you’ve read Murakami, you know his characters are often daydreaming about what to have for dinner. From Commendatore, the main artist character goes about his daily meal planning “When it began to get dark, I went to the kitchen, cracked open a can of beer, and began preparing dinner. In the oven, I broiled a piece of yellowtail that I’d marinated in sake lees, then sliced pickles, made a cucumber-and-seaweed salad with vinegar, and fixed some miso soup with radishes and deep-fried tofu. Then I sat down and ate my silent meal.” (pp. 364-365) 

All of this is to say that I was excited about visiting Paul Virant’s new Japanese style venture, Gaijin, at 950 W Lake St, Chicago, in the West Loop. Gaijin specializes in Okonomiyaki, the amazing griddled savory “pancakes” filled with cabbage, varieties of vegetables and other fillings. The word “Okonomi” I learned means “have it your way”. How very “EC”!  The girlfriend and I tried two offerings: The Traditional with Yakisoba, Bacon, Egg and Bonito and the Vegetarian with Mushroom and Egg. Both were delicious.

Inspired by this dinner at Gaijin, I’m currently imagining an Entertaining Company event where we set up griddles and offer guests Chef Made to Order Okonomiyaki with everything from vegetables to noodles, shrimp, pork belly, octopus, chicken and beyond. The dramatically mounded Japanese shaved ice dessert, Kakigori, that we enjoyed at Gaijin could easily be morphed into an off site a show stopper by being served by a line of EC waiters similar to back in the day serving of Baked Alaska. That’s a bonus~ I love when a delicious food adventure out on the town also gives me an idea for an EC event. At the very least, would love to bring back this charred octopus salad from EC (pictured below!), inspired by ‘seaganism’ and salty-ocean flavors.

Can’t wait to find the client who is also thinking JAPAN and out of the bento box.  Many menu imaginings to come! Here’s to eating well in 2020! Cheers, W.