Chris Bonomo [00:05:24]:
So the whole thing really was based on our similar experiences. Me from a consumer, you know, like a home cook and Greg from a restaurant chef. Just realizing through our travels over in Japan that there are amazing ingredients over there and they just had not come to America yet.
I mean, you can get great olive oil from Italy or Spain, but you couldn't get great soy sauce. That artisanal soy sauce is over in Japan. And so that was the genesis for the idea of Japanese Pantry, and it's sort of, that's what we're trying to fix, which is to bring these amazing ingredients from these amazing producers and introduce them to American home cooks and chefs. These products just really need people to know about them. So that's our job.
Josh Sharkey [00:06:06]:
And they're still not easy to find outside of, you know, places like the Japanese Pantry.
Chris Bonomo [00:06:10]:
Thank goodness. Yeah, we’re thankful for that.
Josh Sharkey [00:06:10]:
Let's keep it that way. Let's start with the sesame paste, because that's actually the first thing that I tried because first of all, I saw golden sesame paste. I'm like, what? I mean, I know sesame paste. I know what black sesames are, so that makes sense that there is black sesame paste, I guess. But the first thing I tried was a golden sesame paste man. It was incredible. You know, like when you think about tahini that you get from a name, let's be honest, like a Roland or something, you know, they're completely different.
I mean, sesame seeds are not easy to toast. Cooking them evenly is really difficult. They throw out the pan and things like that. So I have to imagine the process in which they do it and the product is probably incredible. And knowing that it comes from Japan, I'm sure they're obsessed with every sort of, you know, piece of that process.
But given that that was the first product, and let's talk about that for a little bit about the sesame paste and why the three varieties, why it's so different from what we might think of in America as we probably don't even say sesame paste. I mean, honestly, the ubiquitous thing most people hear is tahini. What's different about it?
Greg Dunmore [00:07:17]:
Well, you seem to know this, but there's three varieties of sesame in the world, and I was right with you. I thought it was white and black, and then I thought maybe gold was just a little more toasted white. Yeah. I didn't know what golden was. When I went to visit, I got this education from Takehiro of Wadaman, and he explained that there's three varieties.
And at first I was like, I want sesame seeds just from Japan, or Chris and I did. And they're like, we don't grow that much, man. It'll be like a hundred times more expensive than what you're getting now. So we found out that white sesame seeds' origins is Ethiopia, for golden, it's Turkey for black it's been Bolivian that we're getting.
And so they go to these farms and like to check them out. Like how we check out producers in Japan. They go make sure they're doing their good thing, check in, see if they need anything. Well, what the biggest difference is, especially if you're going to compare tahini to tahini, we should probably do the white and the white.
Because most tahini is made with white seeds from Ethiopia. And so what they do is they keep all the holes on their seeds so they don't take that outside layer off. They like to keep that on. And so a traditional tahini gets put in a solution. They'll put the seeds in the solution, and generally it's a chemical solution and it will dissolve the outside husks or holes.
But Wadaman doesn't do that. So you get this intense sesame flavor. So if I'm making a tahini or something and it calls for a cup of tahini, I'll put in half a cup of Wadaman and it'll be just enough flavor. If I put a cup in there, it's going to be all sesame, you know. I won't just taste chickpeas anymore.
So yeah, that's kind of the biggest difference. And for me and Chris, it was the black system paste that was life-changing. Like, well, we took that to restaurants and things like that. They were like, whoa, wow, my food can't be black now I can have this. And there's so much flavor, like it's just a different plating of things. It was cool. So, yeah,
Chris Bonomo [00:08:52]:
We can't forget about roasting too.
Greg Dunmore [00:08:54]:
Oh yeah, roasting is huge.
Josh Sharkey [00:08:56]:
How do they do that at scale?
Greg Dunmore [00:08:58]:
It's a large machine, almost like a big coffee roaster. I don't know exactly if it looks like a coffee roaster, but the father, Takehiro’s dad, fourth generation, he roasts everything himself. He's been doing it for over 45 years, six days a week. He's just the only guy. So he roasts every seed differently. The white seed is kind of more of a slow roast. The gold from what we were told goes in hot and then comes out and then he does another slow roast in black, I think is a more of a gentle roast the whole way through.
So each seed is different. They only have one roasting machine, so when they do a run, they do all golden, all white, all black, you know, at a time. There's all these processes. But I mean, before roasting, there's like 12 steps to the seeds where they get them, they sort them. They clean them. They check for things inside for any metals or stones or anything.
And then they wash them, dry them, and then it goes into a roasting thing, so they actually, there's seconds and thirds go to other companies that make sesame oil. The sesame oils that we're kind of used to here in the states, not the Wadaman sesame oils.
Josh Sharkey [00:9:59]:
Do they control the temperature?
Chris Bonomo [00:10:00]:
Oh, a hundred percent.
Josh Sharkey [00:10:01]:
What kind of machinery is that?
Chris Bonomo [00:10:02]:
When they're grinding these things to me? Greg's right. In some ways it looks like a coffee roasting machine. To me, it kind of looks like the front end of one of those old steam locomotives in some ways, but on a smaller scale. Not a small scale, but on a smaller scale.
And it's like there's a tumblr in there and there's heat and yes, time and temperature is the key plus the magic of Wadasan. The weather in terms of, you know, what's it like out today? Is it humid today? Not today. It's a cold today and it all goes through and so Takahiro was here with his son not too long ago showing his 12 year old son around America, and we were spending days with him and he was telling me how when he was a kid, they didn't really go on a lot of trips.
Like he never did something like that with his family because his dad was in the factory six days a week and we get home like late on a Saturday night. So if they went anywhere to do something, it was a day trip. A drive, because he's so fanatical about the quality of the product that he's doing it six days a week and it's partially up to him and like how do I tweak the quote unquote recipe today to make sure that this sesame seed comes out the same as the one from yesterday, from last week, from last year. It's artisanal. It really is. It really is.
Josh Sharkey [00:11:19]:
Yeah. Yeah. It's an incredible product. I'm pissed that I haven't tried the black one now, but I'll have to go.
Greg Dunmore [00:11:23]:
Oh, you haven't?
Josh Sharkey [00:11:24]:
Oh yeah. No. By the way, do you remember the dish you did? You said that you did a dish with the sesame paste?
Greg Dunmore [00:11:24]:
I did my gyoza. I had Gyoza on the menu and I did my dipping sauce with a black sesame dipping sauce that week. It was delicious.
Josh Sharkey [00:11:38]:
All right. We're going to weave a bit here.I want to talk about soy sauce, but before we do that, why don't we talk about Koji? Cause that probably comes a little bit before. I did a project with a chef, a pretty well known chef. We were working on some R&D, and we were looking for this liquid Koji, which we couldn't find anywhere, other than at the Japanese pantry.
And it is an incredible product. We used it for a ton of things, mostly sauces. But can you talk a little about Koji as a whole in case anybody isn't familiar with what Koji is? And this liquid form, because I've never seen a liquid form of Koji available outside of what you guys are selling. Why are you selling that as opposed to what you typically see, which is a like pasty thing. And then we'll get into soy sauce after that.
Do you want to hit this with Chris?
Chris Bonomo [00:12:16]:
You want me to do it? It's a chefy question. You go for it.
Greg Dunmore [00:12:16]:
Okay, interesting. The only reason that we have it, and you see it from Haruki, is they have a patent for that. And oddly enough, a famous chef, a three star Michelin chef, came to us and said, Hey, we want you to import this for us.
And Chris and I looked at each other, we're like, this's the second largest miso manufacturer in Japan. Like, is this product artisanal? And we're like, it's not, but you know what it is. It's really freaking cool and unique because of that patent. And unique. It was unique. So let's go back to the basics.
So for people that don't know what Koji is, It's basically rice that's been inoculated with this type of bacteria, and I always forget the name, so I'm not technically good in that realm, but it's inoculated with bacteria that rice is generally used to ferment soy sauce, mirin sake, miso, et cetera. It's the backbone of Japanese food.
Really it flavors those different brews too. Like the koji is, it's almost like a terroir in a way. It's the wrong word, but it gives flavor. So you have this bacteria, this, this rice that's inoculated if you add a mixture of water and salt to it, and let that ferment for a week. You have Shio Koji.
But Shio Koji looks like rice porridge. And traditionally in Japan, they use it for their meats and fish. You put your fish in there and you have to either scrape that all off before you cook it or after you cook it. But when we saw this product, it was that porridge, putting a sake press on it, and then just got the liquid.
Now the use for this went from like a couple uses to like uses around the world. And chefs are de-glazing with it. They're putting some in cocktails, some in vinegars. And I mean, I know when I first was getting it, I was always like behind my wife's back, like dropping in like a little bit in her soups to the point where she's like, stop putting it in my effing soups.
Then now I see her and she just reaches for it and puts in her soup because she knows it adds a little umami to it. And it's basically being umami without being MSG. Not that there's anything wrong with MSG, but it's just a cool product and yeah, we're very thankful for that product. And it's also introducing people to Koji in that whole world, what they didn't know about, which is awesome.
Josh Sharkey [00:14:15]:
And just way easier to use. I use it all the time that same way. And we even put it on like dressings as well. And curing egg yolks is really nice with it. I don't know if you know this, I dunno if this is good or not, but I had an extra six pack of the Shia Koji and there was a bottle at like the back of our cupboard and I forgot about it and I found it like, like a year later and it's like black.
And I tried it. Actually, it tastes almost exactly the same. I don't think I'm going to die, but it goes from that like really like light golden to like this really, really, really dark. I don't know how or why, like the bottle's completely closed and sealed. It turns into this dark, dark, dark color.
Greg Dunmore [00:14:53]:
I don't know what science is, but that's what they told us about that. Like it'll just get, just get dark. Yeah. So it's fine. We have the products that do that, and we also have our white tamari, which will do that over time. But it's the same product inside. You're fine. By the way, Josh, you're not going to die with that one.
Josh Sharkey [00:15:07]:
I'm talking to you today and I didn't die. My kids seem as healthy as they were six months ago, so I think we're okay. You mentioned tamari. Let’s start talking about some soy sauce. So the majority in America knows soy sauce is completely sort of diametrically opposed to what you taste in the soy sauces when it's an incredible soy sauce, especially the ones that you guys are selling.
So let's just start talking about, like, what is soy sauce? First of all, I did have a question. Must it be aged in cedar barrels? Is that like part of tradition or is that just what is somewhat common? I
Greg Dunmore [00:15:33]:
It's a little bit of both the Kioke barrels, Cedar barrels. I think Kioke is very traditional, very old school. We have a few breweries that do not age in Cedar. And they're really good too. But yeah, the Kioke is something special. It's kind of hard because you could, we have two good soy sauces. One's not aged and one is aged. But the Kioke definitely makes the soy sauce very special. That's so much umami in depth.
Josh Sharkey [00:16:10]:
So maybe for a minute we could just chat about the different types of soy sauce that we see, right? There's light in the dark, there's tamari, there's shoyu.
Greg Dunmore [00:16:20]:
What we're used to is Kikkoman here in the States. Let's just say it out loud. Kikkoman is a dark soy sauce. So in Japan there's five different classifications of soy sauce. There's a white, a light dark, Saishikomi Shoyu, which is a double brewed and then a tamari. So that's the five categories of soy sauce. So the white is the white soy sauce.
Chris Bonomo [00:16:44]:
That I'm sure you know, white soy sauce. But white soy sauce is mostly wheat with a little bit of soybeans. So it's the flip of dark soy sauce, the dark soy sauce. When you ferment soybeans, they oxidize, and hence you have the color. So when you have mostly wheat with a little bit of soy sauce, it's kind of amber. Then you're going to move to light soy sauce, which is kind of almost 50-50.
I mean, every brewery's got a little different ratio, 50 50 white to soybeans, and this soy sauce is going to be a cooking soy sauce. It's going to be light in color, not sodium. It's not like healthier for you, but this is like where you can drop it in a broth and your broth isn't going to really change colors that much.
Then the third category, dark Koikuchi. You can drop that in a broth and your both can be very dark. If you've ever been to Japan, there's Saka, the Kansai region, and you have Tokyo. Tokyo loves Koikuchi, so a lot of their broths in Tokyo are dark. A lot of the cooking in Kansai is light, so it's just kind of regional, but then also like dark soy sauce.
You use a lot for dipping your fish or everyday use kind of, I think. Then you have double brewed or Saishikomi, which is basically a double fermented soy sauce. So they make soy sauce one time and then they'll go and make the same soy sauce. But they omit water and salt the second time and add the soy sauce they just made.
So it's kind of more concentrated or intense. And that soy sauce is really made for dipping your sashimi in like it's got a great soy flavor. We have a great ice cream recipe that we put on our website that we got the idea from the brewer that we made it. It's like salty caramel with this umami.
You're like, what? This is salty caramel, but there's something else going on. Then lastly, tamari is a category, and tamari does not mean gluten-free. Tamari means something from a pressing. So when you make tamari traditionally in these regions of Japan, you get a byproduct or not really a byproduct.
You get two products. When you make tamari, you get hatcho miso and tamari. The tamari that we sell is a three-year aged one. They put the soy mash in their cedar barrels covered with river rocks for three years. After three years, the liquids tamari, the solids hachi miso. So it means something from a pressing, and that can have wheat in it.
Generally speaking, when you make soy sauce, you don't get the miso byproduct. They give the pressings from that to cows or you know, livestock or whatever. So that's kind of a brief description of the five soy sauces.
Josh Sharkey [00:19:00]:
Okay. I wanted to dig into that now a little bit more with each one, but before we get into that, why is Kikkoman and San-J the market in America? Why is that all we can find?
Chris Bonomo [00:19:00]:
I don't know. I just don't think we knew about it. You know, like 20 years ago, I had some guy come into the restaurant I was working at. He brought like six olive oils and put it in front of me. And I was like, who is this dude? And then I tasted them and I was like, holy crap, these are so good. Like I can't go back to the olive oil I was just using. I have to use good olive oil now. And I feel like we're at that time now where we're just introducing people. There are varieties within olive oil.
There's varieties within soy sauce for you to use now. And that's it really. I think we just opened the gate. Good for them. Those big companies, they did it and they did it well, and they got it across and they still get out there and they're still going to, they're still doing well.
Greg Dunmore [00:19:47]:
So, yeah, I mean, they established the market and to have a product that you can send to every grocery store in America. And have it be the exact same product you have to produce on industrial scale. And when you do that, you know you have to change certain things. I mean, you were talking about the Kioke, the Cedar barrels, the Japanese cedar barrels. There's only one company that actually makes those. There's actually a consortium of artisanal soy sauce makers who are all coming together and literally working together.
They bring people to this place that makes the Kioke barrels and they all make barrels together even though they're technically competitors because they have to save that. You can't do that if you want to send a bottle of soy sauce or cases and cases of soy sauce to every grocery store in America. And we're thankful that we don't have to explain to people what soy sauce is that Kikkoman and San-J did that work for us over the last 50 to 70 years, and so that's great. It's kind of like if you're an artisanal ketchup maker, you're sort of thanking Heinz because people know what ketchup is and there are certain part of that country that want something more than Heinz, something different from Heinz. They're probably still going to have Heinz in their fridge, but they might have some artisanal ketchup.
Josh Sharkey [00:20:55]:
It's pretty damn good. I imagine that Kikkoman, I'm guessing it's stainless steel that they're using or something?
Greg Dunmore [00:21:02]:
Massive stainless steel containers. Yeah, absolutely. They do have a high end line of Kikkoman, but we don't see that too often, which we're talking about is that mass produced, like what Chris is saying.
Josh Sharkey [00:21:16]:
Are there, by the way, are there like, like the Almacenistas of Sherry. Are there really small batch producers of soy that are using different kinds of barrels? I'm thinking about balsamic, juniper and barrel.
Chris Bonomo [00:21:29]:
Not that we know of. Do you know why they use cedar? Josh?
Josh Sharkey [00:21:31]:
No. No. Tell me.
Chris Bonomo [00:21:33]:
So Cedar's not like what happens with oak, with wine wherein parts flavor. Cedar's a very porous wood so it stores bacteria and kind of like that funk. You want like, like a sourdough room. You kind of want that bacteria in the air. So it's really important, like our tamari producer, his youngest barrel's like the 155 years old and because you keep that barrel because it keeps your flavor, that is the flavor of your house. We worked with a soy brewery early on.
We kind of stopped working with them, but they had told us the story is they had moved facilities and they had to take some of the wood from their barrels and put them in their new barrels because they just didn't have that flavor, that funk, that distinction in their brew. So it was really important and that's why Kioke is very special. It's theirs. It's Yugeta, Yamakis. So it's very important.
Josh Sharkey [00:22:20]:
Maybe we could talk for a second about, I'm going to pronounce it wrong, Horikawaya Nomura. Is that the family, the producer? Yep. Like 300 years old. I imagine there must be at least three or four generations of people making it. 18 generations? This is crazy. How did you meet them and is it also, is it common for producers of soy to also produce miso?
Greg Dunmore [00:22:45]:
Nomura-san came from Iio-san, right?
Chris Bonomo [00:22:47]:
Our vinegar producer introduced us to Nomura-San.
Greg Dunmore [00:22:57]:
It's all a series of relationships and being introduced to other people over there. That's how we found the majority of the producers that we work with. We've been introduced from producers that we already work with. So Wadaman introduced us to Doi-san, you know, we got introduced to Iio-san. Iio-san introduced us to Nomura-san. It just keeps on going. Thank goodness.
Josh Sharkey [00:23:15]:
Yeah. Are there a lot of families like, or producers like Nomura? Are they sort of a dime a dozen?
Chris Bonomo [00:23:20]:
Dime or dozen, no but there's more than just a little. They're not like everywhere, but yes, they are there. And Namura-sans very special. It's my favorite soy sauce. Everyone else if you’re listening to this, but it's like so special because they've never upgraded any of their methods for 300 years except lights for electricity. So everything they do, like where these other manufacturers cook all their soybeans and big propane vats or whatever, and they boil their wheat and these vats. He does everything over a wood fire.
And these cauldrons and his koji room is warm by wood fire. So it's got this slight smoke to it. And then they've been making these four misos for 300 years too, and they're all separate from each. Namura-san, if you talk to him, he tells you that he's a Koji farmer and like Koji are his kids, and that's what he does. He doesn't make miso or soy sauce. He's a Koji farmer because he makes five different types of Koji and they're all for different soy sauce and miso. Really cool story.
Josh Sharkey [00:24:24]:
Just so jealous that you guys get to see these producers so often. It's such a cool job.
Chris Bonomo [00:24:24]:
We pinch ourselves all the time. When we were in Japan, we were having these Anthony Bordain like experiences. This is what I did as a chef. Like when I was a chef, I'd go visit Mexico City and go see how some food was made or tequila made. But like now I get to do it as a job and then bring it back and show chefs. It's pretty cool.
Greg Dunmore [00:24:42]:
There's a good story about Namura-san and miso. We were there and we had already been importing his soy sauce and wanted to essentially start importing his miso, but we wanted to talk to him like, all right, these different miso, how do you use them? What is the way that you use them?
So his mom went into the kitchen and started making us different miso soups and would sit down with us and would say, oh, no, no, no, you should use this. Or, you know, clams go great with this miso soup. Not, you know, this other one. It was pretty special. It was really special experience and we wrote everything down.
Josh Sharkey [00:25:23]:
I'm just getting so excited. Just go back on the site and order some more stuff.
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I'm going to skip around a bit because there's a million products we can talk about and. Why don't we talk about Katsuobushi and or bonito flakes as most people might know them. And I learned a little bit today just reading some more from your website. Actually you got a really good post about it.
And it's funny, like, you know, you don't think of skipjack when you think of bonito flakes, first of all, because you think of bonito and they're not the same. I didn't know a lot about the arabushi and karebushi and sort of the different iterations and why the flavor profile is different. I worked at Bouley, which was like we had the Suji team come over and cook with us, and we would make dashi and chawanmushi and things like that.
We would get the whole bonito and well skipjack maybe and shave it, but I don't think we ever once heard the word arabush or karebushi or saw different thicknesses of slicing and things like that, which you guys are selling. So maybe we can just chat about, you know, why are there different thicknesses for people that don't know the difference between arabushi and karebushi and how you guys think about what you're selling in terms of the bonito flakes.
Greg Dunmore [00:27:26]:
It took a while. That was the guy in the middle here, Chris, he had to do a lot of red tape to get that over here. You know, just what you need to do to import this kind of fish. But yeah, the thickness of the shavings depends on how much you steep it. So if it's thicker it, you know, steeps 20 to 30 minutes. If it's really thin, 30 seconds, all you need to do. And Josh, you know this like chefs when they hear the word fermentation, oh yeah, I want that.
I want that, I want that. So, you know, every chef wants the fermented shavings, but they really don't know what they want because here in the states we like things that are strong in flavor. Like we want intense flavors. So arabushi is non fermented, and this is a three month process where karebushi is the fermented version..
And that's a six month process. They're all the same. Like you need arabushi to make karebushi. So let's go through the steps. You get the Skipjack tuna loins. They cut them up and then they poach them and then they smoke them and then they dry them.
Josh Sharkey [00:28:12]:
Just in water.
Greg Dunmore [00:28:13]:
Greg Dunmore [00:28:14]:
Yeah. It's not dashi.
Greg Dunmore [00:28:15]:
That'd be cool. That's three months to cook, smoke, and then dry, and that's arabushi. And so when you make a dashi with that, think about slicing that on your slicer. You get that intensity of the outside of the loin when you have your broth.
You have that very smoky kind of, fish is the wrong word, but that aroma, that flavor's really in that broth. Now karebusi is, let's take that further. So let's go through the steps again. It's cooked, smoked, dried, and then for karebushi, they inoculate it with bacteria a couple times and then dry that again in the sun.
And then on the outside of the loin it becomes kind of fuzzy like a mold set. So when they shave that, You don't get that intensity of the smoke anymore. It's very gentle. So what you get more of is this aroma. So like that, you had mentioned chawanmushi, like when you have a chawanmushi, you have a top generally, and you open that top and it comes in front of you, the aroma comes at you, and that's where you get this flavor.
And then all the other ingredients that inside your chawanmushi kind of stand out more, where if you're using an arabushi,i it's still going to be good, but it's going to be a heavy intensity of kashbushi flavor in here rather than the egg and whatever ingredients you have in there. So here, when people are always asking, like chefs in particular, I'm like, what are you using it for?
Oh, dashi, okay, what kind? What are you using the dashi for? Oh, well, I'm adding it to this, this, and this. I'm like, okay, you want this? And they're like, no, I really want this. I'm like, no, trust me on this. Like you, this is what you want. Oh, thanks, man. I didn't realize I wanted that, you know, so it's like, it's been a big learning curve for both Chris and I.
It took me a while, like years ago, maybe four years ago, like I kind of understood konbu. It clicked one day. I was like, oh, I get the difference. I get the difference in cooking. Now I can taste the difference. Same thing's happening with Katsuobushi for me, like a little while ago, maybe six months ago. I'm really starting to understand how to use it and where to use it.
Josh Sharkey [00:29:58]:
I'm excited to get some more of it now. I mean, they have such a rich history of food. It's hard to jump in and be an expert right away, right? And that's just what's so beautiful about Japanese cooking and Japanese cuisine is there's just this maniacal approach to doing one thing so well in this, which makes for a very simple cuisine and also for a very difficult cuisine to do well, because you don't have a lot of, it's very few ingredients and you're just respecting them.
But to create those kinds of products requires like this culture of obsession, really, which is cool, especially as a chef. But you know,I was always curious why we've seen the whole bonito that we shave on the shaver, but that's not very often. Right? It's almost exclusively what you can find, at least in any store you go to if you're going to H Mart or something, like it's all you get is the shaved things. Why are the whole filets not imported more because I would assume it's easier to import that than shaving it and then importing.
Chris Bonomo [00:31:08]:
No, the opposite. The red tape is the opposite way actually, Josh. When you're bringing in a loin of fish, you have to be able to trace all the way back the chain of custody to where the fish was caught. And it's not the same when it is shaved and there's lots of red tape about the different programs and the HTS code, which is the duty code, et cetera.
Josh Sharkey [00:31:23]:
It's just, that seems so backwards.
Chris Bonomo [00:31:24]:
It kind of is, and it's very, very frustrating. But that's the case. Yeah, you gotta trace it all the way back to the net.
Josh Sharkey [00:31:29]:
Well, you just talked about Bonito Flakes, so naturally, why don't we talk about some konbu for a minute.
Greg Dunmore [00:31:33]:
Let's not say Bonito Flakes anymore.
Josh Sharkey [00:31:35]:
Okay. I'm so used to that. Katsuobushi. Is that how you pronounce it? So you have this really cool sort of map of Japan as well, and it looks like basically everything comes from the south, other than konbu and maybe a couple other things in the central part, but it seems like the only thing here that really comes from, from the north part is the konbu. Is there any particular reason for that and then we'll dig into konbu in general.
Greg Dunmore [00:32:01]:
Wow, that's a good question. I'll let Chris take that one.
Chris Bonomo [00:32:03]:
Yeah. You know, so far, not really. I can make up reasons, but I'm not going to. Let's just say it's unexplored territory for us. Things that we can go to. Obviously you have differences in weather, which may have an impact in terms of what's where, but it’s just a potential opportunity for us. I think we've been up there a few times now and it's beautiful. But yeah, our map is kind of odd in that way.
Josh Sharkey [00:32:19]:
So konbu, you know, I think it's, again, I think most chefs, unless you're really digging into this, we just know konbu, right? And just seaweed. So you can make dashi. What else should we know that we wouldn't know about? First of all, I didn't realize the entire process of it or the aging process either, so I'd love to hear more about that too.
Greg Dunmore [00:32:35]:
Yeah, konbu is fascinating because you had just touched on it like a chef, my restaurant. I just got the konbu that they brought me. And then I'd be like, then they have these like California like hippies up on the coast being like, Hey man, I just got this konbu.
I'm like, cool, I'll take that. And yeah, that tasted different, but I didn't know the difference. Like I really didn't, and now I feel like stupid about it now. Like now with all the knowledge I have, you know, I'm like, oh, I was really, I was really blasphemous in what I was using. We found out that like the konbu that's grown on the California coast, from what we understand from the Japanese is that konbu is kind of used more for cosmetics. It's not really a really good tasting konbu. They're right, it tastes like, like iron, you know, kind of irony. Almost like a warm brackish water smell. You know? It's got, it's not, it's not super delicious. And so we've got introduced to five different varieties of konbu in Japan.
On our retail website, carry three of them and they're like the best for dashi. They're all different regions of where they're grown. Like the ma konbu from the south of Hokkaido, the Rausu is on the eastern side and the northern side. Northern western side is Rishiri konbu. And they're all different. And I would say primarily for our wholesale, we don't do the ma konbu wholesale.
Ma konbu harvest has been very bad in the years, these past years. So we just do a small batch for retail. So for our wholesale, we do Rausu and Rishiri. Like Rishiri is like if you're making dashi and your dashi is the focus of the dish, you want to use Rishiri. because Rishiri is going to give you the best dashi.
Now if you're making a dashi that you're going to add flavorings to or add different things, you want to use Rausu konbu because Rausu is a great supporting Konbu. Like it's going to highlight more of the ingredients than the Raushi would. So yeah, it's just, it's interesting and like if you're wrapping fish, you use the Rausu, not the Rishiri. I mean you can use both of these. As we geek out into it, we're finding that there's different uses for all these.
Josh Sharkey [00:34:31]:
Yeah, and what is the aging process like?
Chris Bonomo [00:34:31]:
Oh, yes. They harvest it from the water and they'll lay on the beaches to kind of dry, and then they'll age it for about two years and kind of inside of like, I don't know how to describe it. We've actually never seen it in person, so we've only seen it from video. We've tried to go see the harvest once and we got stymied by a typhoon or something? Anyways, it's similar to a tobacco aging room where it needs air to come through, but they kind of lay them and just let them age for two years and they can age them up to longer too.
Josh Sharkey [00:35:04]:
So when there are different types of konbu using or different katsuobushi, and maybe there's many different sorts of ways people make dashi, but I'm used to like the 1, 2, 10, you know, like 1% konbu, 2% katsuobushi, and 10% water. But do you find you're using different amounts based on the type of konbu?
Greg Dunmore [00:35:23]:
So it's interesting, I got a recipe from all three of the producers and they're almost identical on like what they use. The variation was so slight that, you know, we just kind of made our recipe on our website kind of a recipe of all three of those kind of in there, in their recipes from the weight.
Josh Sharkey [00:35:38]:
Gotcha. Okay. All right, well we're on the sea. I'm going to jump to the land a little bit cause. I've never had a shiitake, like the one that I had from you guys. It's just the taste, like you just, it's so much stronger and earthier and almost like smokey. And it's completely different from what we think of as shiitakes that we buy here, especially the fresh ones.
These are dry that we get. But I'd love to learn about the producer. Is this sort of common practice there? And also just do they grow them differently? Is it a different varietal? Does like the oak that they're using, I think they use like Sawtooth Oak, does that affect the flavor? Yeah, I just love to sort of dig into that because they're a very unique product, at least from what I've experienced.
Chris Bonomo [00:36:16]:
Well, you want to talk about an Anthony Bourdain level experience. Our introduction to shiitake mushrooms was one early morning on the side of a mountain. It was a gorgeous day, and we met up with this old couple of them who were shiitake farmers and over the course of the morning, not only did we learn about how they grow their shiitake, they showed us all the different parts of the process.
In terms of those Sawtooth Oak logs that you're talking about, how they drill small holes into those logs and then inoculate them with the spores of the shiitake, how they have to basically age those, and then how they then take those eventually and put them in the woods. That's where the shiitakes grow off of these sawtooth logs that are all kind of standing up.
Josh Sharkey [00:37:08]:
Like an ex formation, right?
Yeah. And an ex formation on, uh, barbed wire strung between trees. And then we harvested some and they had built a small fire and we grilled them up and ate them with soy sauce and well actually it was margarine, but it probably should have been butter, but that's okay. It still tasted amazingly delicious and just standing there overlooking this beautiful valley with the sun out and shiitakes all around us that we had picked five minutes ago was pretty amazing.
Josh Sharkey [00:37:37]:
Those experiences are just, yeah, like those are the kind of things that change you. 25 plus years ago, I was in Norway on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic with Chef Eric Ripert and Rick Moonen and a couple food writers, and then just these fishermen and just taking these live scallops and there was this tiny island and literally all we did was grill the scallops hole in the shell and just like that.
I don't think I've ever had anything better in my whole life. I think that’s what is amazing about products. Whether they're just pristine because they're just, you know, fresh out of the water, or they're just so much care taken to them. Like, yeah, like a shiitake mushroom with a million things with, you know, how you're going to cook it.
But like something like that when it's such a beautiful product, just grilled over. There's just nothing better. I'm jealous. Is that practice and is what they're growing sort of like, that's just the ubiquitous way in which it's done in that area or, and how did you meet that family?
Chris Bonomo [00:38:35]:
That is the traditional way that it's done. What's more ubiquitous is to grow them on sort of a growth substrater, you know, that they put in a building so that you have these cubes of this stuff that you can grow mushrooms on. And they'll do that in a controlled environment. But you know, it's a little bit not the same.
Josh Sharkey [00:38:54]:
How do you see folks using these because you know they're dried, right? Maybe this would be a Greg question. Where are you seeing them most often used?
Greg Dunmore [00:39:00]:
Mostly dashi. You can make a dashi and then a braise or something like that. And then you can use that mushroom afterwards too.
It's not like you have to throw it out because they're, they're meaty, they're delicious. Like you can't be past as a fresh mushroom, but. As a cooked mushroom. It's a really good mushroom. So we see a lot of dashis. Like we have a restaurant that is a really famous restaurant here that kind of went more plant-based and they're really using a lot of our mushrooms because it's got such a meaty flavor. It's got a ton of umami to it. They're just using that and they're dashi to add umami to things and yeah, it's a pretty special product.
Josh Sharkey [00:39:26]:
I pickled some, they were really good. I just reconstituted them in some liquid and then took that liquid and made a soy based pickle liquid. And they're in my fridge. They're just so simple as is. They're just like literally just eating with snacks.
Greg Dunmore [00:39:36]:
That's awesome. The one we get is the donko, which means the thick cap one. There's a thin cap, and I'm forgetting the name Chris, if you remember, help me out. But the donko one is the most prized. It's thicker, more intense. Also, if the cap's got a flower to it, like a flower top, that's really prized. I think that's for aesthetics. I'm not a hundred percent sure. But yeah, it's just, they're really special. And you know, it's like if you've been mushroom hunting, like when they told us to go in the forest after they told us how the shiitakes were grown and then we looked and we saw all the mushrooms going up.
It was like, wow, really open your eyes. And then I just remember driving back on, because we had to go back to the factory where they actually dry the mushrooms and produce them and pack. And I remember driving past a couple things where I looked in the forest and I saw mushrooms growing. It's like you don't see it unless you know it's there. Like you said, it's kind of cool.
Josh Sharkey [00:40:31]
Yeah, I bet. I bet there's probably families that just like to grow a little bit of their own, you know, shiitake as well if they're living up there.
Greg Dunmore [00:40:34]
Yeah, a hundred percent. They don't buy from one farmer, they buy from a bunch of different farmers because like all these farmers will bring their dry shiitakes to the market and they get to pick which ones they want, you know? We see that a lot in Japan, like where a lot of the konbu people do the same thing. They bring all their konbu or all their nori and then people pick the lots they want and things like that,
Josh Sharkey [00:40:59]
Well, we were just talking about pickling and there's also some like insane vinegars you guys have, the fig vinegar is ridiculous, but even just the rice vinegar. I think I want to talk about that because I listened to a talk or something you guys were talking about, about sort of this vertically integrated vinegar producer that's like everything from the rice that's grown to producing the sake and then the amount of rice that's needed to call it rice vinegar and the amount that they're actually using. So can we talk about that story a little bit and you know, what we think of as rice vinegar and what the difference between that and what you guys are actually selling?
Greg Dunmore [00:41:26]:
So Iio-san, Iio Jozo, the vinegar producer, when we were introduced to that, it was very special. We realized we were a pinnacle of rice vinegar. But yeah, like you said, they grow a lot of their rice. Not all of it, but they grow some of the rice and it's kind of cool as they have their customers come out every year. During the planting, they'll come out and help plant and they'll also come out and help harvest. So it's a small thing, but it's almost like this yearly tradition of having them come out. So it’s really cool
Josh Sharkey [00:41:59]
You mean the community comes out and does it?
Greg Dunmore [00:41:59]
Yeah. Like some customers, even from like, they'll come from all the way from Tokyo. This is on Miyazaki, so, or not Miyazaki. Miyazu. Yeah, we're going to Miyazaki in a week, so that's why it's on my mind, so it's pretty cool. But yeah, what you said is they, what they'll do is they'll harvest the rice, but they'll also buy rice from outside and they make a traditional Japanese sake and then ferment that in the vinegar, which most breweries don't do that anymore.
Only a very few do. Most vinegar brewers take outside alcohol and then brew that into vinegar. And then the stuff that you find in the supermarkets, like say going to the whole foods, that vinegar takes two days to make. Iio Jozos, two years and fill the bottle. So it's truly artisanal vinegar. And as you mentioned, the classification for a 900 milliliter bottle in Japan, or a liter bottle.
A liter bottle, you have to have 40 grams of rice per liter included in there to be classified as a rice vinegar. So Iio Jozo starts out with 200 grams in a liter bottle. That's their base vinegar. And then they have their premium, which is 320 grams. I think all their vinegars are great. But that pure vinegar, I was like, this is amazing. And then I tried their premium and I was like, holy cow, this is even better. Like this is incredible. And that's just to double the amount of rice that's made there and it just adds
Josh Sharkey [00:43:18]:
Eight times the amount of rice that you would typically if it was constituted as rice vinegar, right?
Greg Dunmore [00:43:22]:
Yeah, yeah, exactly. If you're looking at it that way, for sure.
Josh Sharkey [00:43:25]:
What does that mean for the flavor, for people that haven't had this? I've had it. It's insane and it's not, you know, what we think of using rice vinegar for most things that you probably wouldn't do. For people that haven't had it, what does that do to the flavor?
Greg Dunmore [00:43:38]:
Well, it actually has flavor now. Like rice vinegar that we get here is like just, it's just acid really. This actually has a flavor like this, especially the premium. You can really taste the sake. You can taste the sake and get the nuances.
When I taste it, chef chefs often say, this is the first time I think I've ever had true rice vinegar, because they've always been having the crap stuff like, and me too. I did not, until I went to Japan for the first time, I had never experienced really good rice vinegar.
Josh Sharkey [00:44:11]:
The viscosity I feel is a little bit different as well. It's not that it's that much thicker, it is a little bit, but the mouth feel also is like it coats your mouth a little bit more than like, typical vinegar.
Greg Dunmore [00:44:24]:
Yeah, Iio Jozo told us that they had their pure vinegar for the longest time, but they had some customers that were like, you know, that's a good vinegar, but it smells too strong. For us to use. I don't want to use it. Well that's why they developed the premium. They went back and developed this premium because the premium's got a more gentle smell and it's gentle, you know?
So I always tell chefs like if you're using the premium that's, you want to taste that vinegar, you want that vinegar taste in your dish. If you're using just vinegar and the salad dressing, use the rice vinegar like the pure because it's going to be, yeah, it's going to be more up at your speed. Yeah.
Josh Sharkey [00:44:57]:
What's something that you've used, that rice vinegar pour that you really like?
Everything? I don't know. I use it all the time. I use it on salads. I'm making nanbanzuke on Monday, so I'm actually buying brown rice vinegar for that. Or taking it, not really getting it. I can use it for everything really. Like any, everything, everything you use or vinegar for.
Josh Sharkey [00:45:20]:
When I tasted it the first time, I was like, oh man, I got to think about this differently. I used it on duck breast almost like a gastric, but without cooking, you know, much. Just like some honey and Sancho Pepper or something and rice vinegar, it was so good. I mean that was it. Like, because you taste so much that like, you know, that rice, so we don't have much time left. So maybe if you want to pick one more product and I want to kind of wrap up with some, just a little bit more that we can learn about the Japanese pantry and how chefs can learn more. The Japanese brown sugar is like a really cool one.
Greg Dunmore [00:45:56]:
You're right. That could be a quick one too. And we could go into spices if you have time because the spices are special. But the sugar is amazing. It's kind of one of those things like Chris and I were like, we just need to bring sugar.
Chris is like, oh, how much this is going to be popular, man, we sell so much of this sugar now. It's crazy, but like every time we introduce it to someone, they're like, what? So it's Okinawa Brown Sugar, and it comes from an island called Hateruma, which is a coral island, so you pick up the terroir from the island, so it's a very tobacco, mineral based sugar.
I mean, it's sugar, it's cane sugar. It's sweet, but it is not super sweet. It's not like brown sugar out of a box sweet. It's different. It is just its own wonderful beast. We sell this to bars, bakeries, restaurants, you know, rum producers, like it's pretty special stuff.
Josh Sharkey [00:46:49]:
Oh, rum. Yeah, man, I bet that's really good for making spirits. Wow, I never thought about that. At Bouley, we used to do a dish with lobster and we would just take some Japanese brown sugar and start to lightly caramelize it and then glaze a watermelon cube in it. Don't know why we did that, but it was delicious. No, that was the first time I ever had Japanese brown sugar. I mean, that was like 15 years ago, 20 years ago. So let's wrap up with the spices, because it sounds like there's a lot of juice there.
Chris Bonomo [00:47:05]:
The spices that we bring in from Yamatsu Tsujita are really like many of the other products that we have. It is driven by the person and the personality that runs that company.
So Hiroyuki Tsujita is a personality that is, first of all, he is a mountain of a man. He is so tall. He is like the third best in his age group for Kendo, which is that one where they have the mask on and the stick and they hit each other. He even has a Kendo dojo, so the gymnasium, so to speak, has his own on the facility they're in just outside of Osaka, where their factory is, or their facility.
I would call our facility and his fashion dedication shows in his products, including the fact that he sort of single-handedly, along with a few farmers, saved this Japanese variety of hot pepper. So a small hot pepper is spelled Takanotsume, which is the Hawk's Claw pepper that is just super spicy but also has flavor.
It has the right balance, and he uses that in his seven spice mix. You were talking about Sancho earlier, Sancho farmers, he actually mixes three different kinds of Sancho and his Sancho powder. His spices are just amazing and they have so much flavor there, and they come with his seal quality of his own that, you know, just by meeting this man and just seeing his passion, it's just amazing.
Greg Dunmore [00:48:48]:
And then we had to agree to keep his spices frozen. Bring them over by air or else he would not sell to us. So that was a bone of contention because And then, then even like, we're always like, well how do they sell them into the big department stores? Because we see them on the shelves and he's like, he says that he has deals with them and everything and they do this and that.
And then he tells us, because we sell these little tins now and you can put the spices into, and he says that, You really should keep them always in that bag and just put a little bit in a tin for you to use at the table. Like he's so right, like this way, this way, this way. And then, I mean, he's got these yuzu trees that they're like 60 years old, but they didn't fruit until 20 years, you know, into their life.
So they're like super special and teases us with this yuzu that he has that we can't, it's just, it's too small of a production. We wouldn't be important. But yeah, he's always like, you guys have to bring it over frozen. Frozen. But Takehiro, when he came just a couple weeks ago with his son, brought us one each from Tsujita saying this is from Tsujita. So, yeah, we know we're in his mind and he likes us, so that's good. Yeah, he's a good guy.
Josh Sharkey [00:49:48]:
Well, it's funny, you know, we usually only see the S & B Togarashi. Maybe for a minute, if you don't mind, just talk about what is togarashi and the difference between an incredible one and maybe the commodity one. I mean, look, the one we get pretty good. We don't really know much else, but. What is togarashi?
Greg Dunmore [00:50:07]:
Togarashi basically means pepper, so you have to use something in front of that like, so there's ichimi togarashi, which means single spice, and then shichimi togarashi, which is seven spice. Togarashi is basically chili pepper.
The seven spice is the one you're talking about the S&B that we see with like sesame seeds. Awa nori which is a variety. It’s a type of seaweed. They just, it's not nori though, usually. Sometimes ginger. Chili flakes, Sancho peppers in there, citrus of some sort, yuzu. Some people put a shiso in there and there's something else too.
Amaranth is sometimes there. Yeah, it's interesting. And so what the difference of Tsujita-san is to S&B is the quality of ingredients. And I think this might be a good place to stop too, because like, we didn't say this in the beginning, but like, when Chris and I were coming up with the name of our company, Chris was saying, oh, should we be Washuku this and I was like, I don't know.
We're just trying to fill a Japanese pantry. He goes, bingo, that's it. The Japanese Pantry. So because all we're trying to do is this. We know that most home cooks and most chefs in the country have a bottle of soy sauce and vinegar in their pantry. All we want to do is show you that there's another whole level up there. Like there's a high level of that, and so we just want to show you that you can upgrade your pantry. That's all we're doing really. We're just bringing over better ingredients that are available.
Josh Sharkey [00:51:31]:
Well, thank you for doing that. Honestly, you guys have incredible products and I, I don't know where else we would find them. It is a great place to stop. Because otherwise we'll go down rabbit holes of furikake and yuzu juice and you know, all kinds of other stuff. So let's end it there with how can chefs learn more about Japanese pantry? It's a pretty easy website. Fine, but how can they find the products and how can they buy them?
Chris Bonomo [00:51:50]:
Sure. Well, we have distributors around the country, but the easiest way is just to email us firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also go onto our website and then you'll find that there's a wholesale section where you can contact us through that, and then we'll figure out the best way to get you the products.
And if you are looking on our website, the vast majority of the products on our website are available on a wholesale basis and often. Quite often they're available in a much larger size. That's much better for a restaurant kitchen. So email@example.com. That email goes to me, it goes to Greg, goes to Kevin, our colleague.
We will not miss it and we'll get back to you. And we have distributors in a lot of major cities too. So if you're in Los Angeles, we'll introduce you to our great distributor down there. And that kind of thing.
Josh Sharkey [00:52:38]:
Chris, Greg, this was awesome. Thanks so much for coming on and chatting.
Greg Dunmore [00:52:45]:
Thank you. Thank you, Josh.
Josh Sharkey [00:52:47]:
Next time I'm out in San Francisco, if there's somewhere to see that facility where all that stuff is, I'll come check it out.
Chris Bonomo [00:52:53]:
Yeah, please come. Yeah, let's break some bread too. That'd be great.
Josh Sharkey [00:52:56]:
All right, cool. All right. Thanks guys. Thank you so much.
Greg Dunmore [00:52:58]:
Thank you, Josh
Josh Sharkey [00:53:06]:
Thanks for tuning into The meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the Song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit www.getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with your fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
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