on December 13, 2012 at 4:00 PM
Soba Master Hosokawa boiling soba noodles.
Doing an internship in a Michilen star restaurant is not easy. Most chef look for someone young and eager. Not someone over fifty like me. Hosokawa is a chef who is notorious for being a perfectionist, tough and uncompromising, He has gone through a lot of apprentices but many don't last, and none of his three sons have followed his path. But if put his disciplinarian style persona aside, Hosokawa serves the most elegant soba, edo-style. 100% milled and hand made on the premises of his small shop. The buckwheat, the vegetable, the eel andr oysters -are all personally selected carefully - he deals directly with farmers and fishermen and does not like going through middlemen. His dipping sauces and soups are heavenly. His tempura is the considered better than tempura shops - crispy and light and always seasonal. i have been visiting Hosokawa's shop for years, every time I am in Japan I make a pilgrimage to his shop and go home enlightened. But the only contact I had ever with him is his occasional audible yelling at one of the apprentices or calling out an order.
But one day in July, a muggy hot day, I went to his shop in the early evening by myself to have a slurp of his soba and basically try as many dishes as I can manage. When I got to the second dish of an eggplant served with miso, I couldn't help but ask if the eggplant was deep fried or barised. It was so sweet and tender, yet not greasy at all. The way the scallions and bell peppers adorned the dish was so lovely that I wanted to make conatct with the chef. He suddenly appeared before me and came out of the kitchen personally to answer my question. I was completely humbled.
Hosokawa was much slimmer than the man I had seen in pictures, but there was the smile and the edokko style towel wrapped around his head. I learned later that he had been ill with intenstinal cancer and had been absent for sometime. He was slowly making a comeback when I went to the shop but in a short time, his assistant had ran away and was short of help. He seemed tired and needed to bounce his feelings to someone so willing to listen like me. I told him I live in Los Angeles and I love soba and I make soba. He was interested in me and for the next 15 minutes, ( I was the last customer of the day), we had a conversation about soba - something that revealed who he was - the artistry that he brought to each dish he created. I knew that perhaps this is the moment to to ask if he would le me come to his kitchen and watch him make soba. He said, sure. I had called him a number of times before to see if he would teach me soba but he was too busy back then that he had cancelled the workshop. I was delighted by the idea to watch him make soba - he asked me to call him
when I came back to Japan again, which I told him I would in December.
I called him the week before leaving for Japan. He answered the phone and remembered who I was. He invited me to come at 8am to his shop in Ryogoku. It would be an hour train ride from my parents' house in Shibuya. I marked the date on my calendar. It was set for December 13, 2012.
I knew this experience was going to allow me to go back to the beginning and learn soba all over again.