What do you give the spouse who has everything for their birthday? I certainly did not make it easy for La, since I’m a little too young to want a Harley.
So on my birthday, she took me out for “lunch and a surprise”. We drove to the City and ended up in the Japantown mall, so I figured that we might be going to Benihana for said lunch. But, when we got there I was told that Laura had arranged for me to Be The Chef, and cook a Teppanyaki dinner for a party of friends and family two days later! What an amazing idea!
That day itself was the training. They sat us down at a table in the back, and taught me how to prepare Splash & Meadow (steak & shrimp), chicken fried rice and hibachi vegetables. Everyone was getting the same choice, to keep it easy. A real chef was going to take care of the second table of friends and family, so they got their choice of entree and the real show.
Two real Benihana chefs helped with the training. First, they demonstrated the techniques, pointing out the order in which things happened, how long each step (like cooking the steak) was supposed to take, and the specific cuts, chops and slashes. This became Laura’s lunch. Then it was my turn: I got to try the opening utensil juggle, flip the shrimp tail at my coat pocket (and was given to understand that pontifically putting the last one in your pocket with your fork is a face-saving conclusion in case you miss every one), make the fried rice heart and slice and dice the New York Strip.
They had given me a spatula and fork with which to practice the juggling act, so I spent the next afternoon in the back yard with electrical tape on the pointy ends of the utensils, trying out the various flips, tosses and twirls. And areating the lawn in the process. But, in the end I managed to keep from putting anyone’s eye out during the performance.
The evening itself was a great success. The head chef of the restaurant, Anton, talked me through the performance and backed me up on the time critical bits. The training involved cooking one serving, but this table had eight hungry people (and one very small one (hi Emma!)) around it! We would typically split up the large tasks: for instance he finished half the shrimp combos and while I got to start all the steaks, I only got around to finishing three. Yes, a professional chef is much faster at this than a dilettante like myself.
The shrimp appetizer went very well. Since there are only three shrimp per serving, I got to start, flip and cut all of them. And then, the shrimp tail toss trick. I not only got one in my hat (though I maintain a that hat that big is hard to miss), but also one in my pocket! Yes, I totally meant to do that!
Chef Anton demonstrated the scared appetizer shrimp, did a fried rice Mickey Mouse (which I had never seen done before), and I got to do the fried rice heart for Laura. Finally, we did the onion ring volcano. This trick went absolutely flawlessly and you can see the result at the top of this post.
Afterwards, I got to taste some of the food and it was actually pretty good! It was a lot of fun to do, and rewarded by a Japanese Steak Dinner in the end. I am very happy Anton helped me and kept me from ruining the food… the special scraper tool came out only twice to restore the state of the grill. In the end, I was very tired but very happy with this amazing birthday party. I would like to thank everyone for coming; the San Francisco Benihana for allowing me to do this; Anton, Junior and George for looking after me; Carol for making it happen and above all, my dearest spouse Laura for arranging it.