I dabble in the realm of cooking, but I’m still scared off by lengthy ingredient lists and complicated terminology. That doesn’t stop me from loving the drama of MasterChef, and when the opportunity to meet Adam Liaw popped up I knew it was fate; – ‘Adam’s Big Pot’ is the one cookbook I own, kindly gifted to me by my boyfriend’s mother. I have never cooked any of the recipes, but it makes me feel more legit just to have it displayed on my counter top.
Adam was in Brisbane last Thursday for a chat about his new book, ‘The Zen Kitchen’. While his previous books have covered a range of Asian cuisine, Adam’s latest offering focuses on Japanese cooking and philosophy; not surprising considering that Adam’s wife is Japanese, he lived in Japan prior to his MasterChef glory, and is an official Goodwill Ambassador for Japanese Cuisine.
The mushrooms taste like mushrooms
Adam talked a lot about the simplicity of Japanese cooking, and the way the ingredients are free to be themselves. The beef and broccoli tastes like, well, beef and broccoli. The salmon tastes like salmon, and the mushrooms taste like – you guessed it – mushrooms. Too often, we are caught up in fabricating a flavour, claims Adam.
“I like to use the analogy of a painting,” Adam explains. “If you use too many colours on one canvas, it’s just going to turn out brown. You won’t get the vibrancy of the red, or the glow of the green, and it’s the same with ingredients in cooking.”
According to Adam, Japanese food ‘just kind of got it right really early on’. The methods and ingredients translate wonderfully into modern society, and haven’t been affected by the changes that other country’s cuisines have had to undergo to stay relevant.
My ears perked up when Adam told us that most recipes in his book are seasoned with just sake, mirin (a sweet rice wine), vinegar, miso and soy sauce… could this be the cooking epiphany that I’ve been waiting for?
I really enjoyed the way that Adam described the close ties between food and Japanese culture; -the man knows how to paint a picture with his words, perhaps a throwback to his days as a corporate lawyer.
“I think that embracing the traditional food and cooking is a clear way of looking into Japanese culture in a way that is tangible,” says Adam. “It’s a gateway to discovering the essence of the country.”
The last recipe in the book is ‘Rabbit Apples’, and consists of simply “cutting up an apple and eating it,” to quote Adam. However, the method of cutting and the reasoning behind it is a story in itself, and just one of many anecdotes, factoids and Japanese proverbs that are scattered throughout the book.
Maybe it was the apple thing that prompted me to purchase the $50 hardcover copy of The Zen Kitchen, and perhaps it was the excitement I felt about cooking this beautiful, simplistic cuisine, but the most likely reason is the fact that we got to sample three dishes after the formalities. I’d like to highly recommend the summer ramen dish – cold noodles topped with finely chopped meat and vegetables; a very weather-appropriate take on soup noodles.
Whatever the reason, I bought a cookbook for the first time and I’m really motivated to get stuck in, which means it’s money well spent as far as I’m concerned. Stay tuned for my adventures with The Zen Kitchen; Chicken and Tofu Meatballs are up first!
The Zen Kitchen by Adam Liaw can be purchased at adamliaw.com
Emma Lee is a Brisbane native but lives to travel. She is also a big fan of food, good books and browsing at markets.
Since graduating from Griffith University with a Communications Degree, Emma has put her writing skills to good use in jobs ranging from Media Rep for a rugby team to Marketing Manager for a Japanese ski resort.
Emma dreams of publishing a novel one day and wants to live in a luxury camper van that never stays in one place for longer than a week.