Choose Your Own Adventure — Bar Chuko, Brooklyn

Photos by Casey Feehan

This is not comfort food. While its sister restaurant Chuko Ramen slings some of the borough’s best bowls of broth and noodles across the street, Bar Chuko has been designed for something entirely different. The second brainchild of Morimoto alums James Sato, Jamison Blankenship and David Koon, this izakaya-style venture ups the ante with an array of obscure eats that will easily please Brooklyn’s most adventurous eaters.

Given the wide range of unusual ingredients on the menu, we eagerly consulted our server for advice, and she was game for the challenge. For starters, she led us toward the surf clam tartare. More meaty and sweet—not to mention large—than your average bivalve, this raw mollusk dish is strategically crafted to maximize texture. Each section of the clam itself is cut into different shapes and textures, mixed with the refreshing crunch of a salted and flash-frozen wasabi leaf—more subtle in spice than its famous green root. Topped with a good squeeze of lime and crunchy wakame strips, it’s sure to pack more punch—and ten times the texture—of your average ceviche-style dish.

The miso cheese was also of note, boasting undeniable umami and a surprisingly light texture. Lovers of salmon roe will dig the beautiful pearls that garnish this dish. As for a must-try cocktail, I heartily endorse the “Horse Feather,” a mix of Rittenhouse rye, lemon, ginger beer and bitters that boasts an almost Tabasco-like kick.

Moving on to the yakitori section of the menu, the first place your eye lands is the “chicken” section, featuring bits both familiar and odd. On the short list? You must eat the soft knee bone, which features just enough cartilage crunch and the condensed chicken flavor of a decadent stock. The gizzards are also fun for game-y meat lovers, and the short ribs are a predictably wonderful, teriyaki-glazed hit. Of course, you’ll also want to try out the vegetables, most notably the snow peas, which are utter perfection in their char, seasoning and elegant presentation.

Taking stock of the larger plates, the market fish has endless appeal. The night we dined, it was a glossy grilled mackerel, served with an exceptionally juicy charred lemon and a palate-cleansing mound of ground jalapeño and daikon. From caramelized to bright and acidic, this dish offered surprising levels of flavor. On the funkier end, opt for the congee, a complex dish featuring tender, gelatinous barbeque eel, crunchy pickles and a complement of fried slices of ficelle.

What’s more, the open kitchen at Bar Chuko makes for a distractingly stunning eye candy. Chefs linger over the pristine, brightly lit pass, finishing dishes with touches of sauce, pickles or crunchy garnish. If you can sit towards the back of the room, I guarantee you’ll find the view quite enticing.

Of course, there are options for the less brave diners among us. When we first arrived, a cluster of families—with no less than six children under the age of ten—was hunkered over a communal table, likely sharing skewers from the more familiar side of the yakitori menu. And Chuko fans will eagerly note that hearty bowls of ramen are served at Bar Chuko too. But for those nights when you’re itching for an outside-the-box experience, just place yourself in the capable hands of the friendly waitstaff. Because really, what’s more relaxing than letting someone else do the ordering for you?

Bar Chuko
565 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
347-425-9570

Life as a Culinary Student: Creative Direction

For most of my time in culinary school, I’ve been learning time-tested techniques or following a recipe “to a T.” So with the exception of a few lessons in modern plating, the ICE “market basket challenge” was the first time I was asked to truly cook creatively for my Chef Instructor and classmates.

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These Chopped!-style lessons, which culminate in an exam of the same format, have been among my favorite moments in the program. After months of following specific directions, I knew that having a blank canvas with only the specification to use “bacon, scallops and tomatoes” or “half a chicken” would be the ultimate test of what I had really learned.

To understand what I experienced during those lessons, it’s important that you know a little about my cooking skills before I entered the Culinary Arts program. I was an above-average home cook—highly knowledgeable, but with no technical training. Cooking dinner for 15 was a task I had already accomplished on numerous occasions, and experimenting with new ingredients is one of my favorite hobbies. So as I approached the “market basket” lessons, I was actually most anxious that I might feel I had not advanced significantly as a cook during the past several months of culinary school.

A “market basket” trial run: half poussin with roasted potatoes, cauliflower, porcini ragout and pan sauce

A “market basket” trial run: half poussin with roasted potatoes, cauliflower, porcini ragout and pan sauce

However, over the course of our two market basket “practice days” and exam, I realized how dramatically I had underestimated the transformation of both my skills and my confidence over these past few months. From pan sauces to warm vinaigrettes, creamy purées to perfectly cooked proteins, I honestly couldn’t believe how easy it felt to execute these dishes—and how proud I was of the results.

Now, before you call me “cocky,” let me be the first to say that there was still improvement to be had. For example, when I served a delicious and well balanced—but rustic—half poussinChef Sabrina Sexton challenged me to elevate my presentation style. So, leaving behind the bistro style that came most naturally to me, I felt motivated to tackle a true fine dining presentation for my final exam. Integrating a rainbow of colors, a balance of sweet and bitter flavors and at least seven different textures on a single plate, my final exam dish felt like an overwhelming success. While plating the many components of my “high end” braised chicken—with roasted and raw beets, sautéed radicchio, squash purée and carrot ribbons—was far more difficult than my bistro-stylepoussin, the flavors and textures were spot on, and never in a million years would I have imagined that I could have come up with such a dish. With a gentle push from Chef Sabrina, I realized for the first time, the incredible possibilities that could be available to me as a cook.

My “market basket” exam: braised chicken with orange/squash puree, roasted and raw beets, carrot ribbons, stewed radicchio, pan sauce.

My “market basket” exam: braised chicken with orange/squash puree, roasted and raw beets, carrot ribbons, stewed radicchio, pan sauce.

As we move toward graduation—and I plan a three-course appetizer menu to serve 60 guests—I’m all the more grateful for this “market basket” experience. While it taught me about time management, multi-tasking and devising a dish from scratch, it also taught me not to play it too safe. At the end of the day, cooking is the most fun when there’s a little risk involved—or, as some might prefer to call it, when you’re learning something new.

Life as a Culinary Student: The Recipes of Iconic Chefs

As I round the corner on the last lap of culinary school, it’s amazing to consider how far my classmates and I have come. Less than eight months ago, many of us didn’t know how to tell the difference between oregano and marjoram. Today, we’re tackling the recipes of the greatest chefs of our time.

After working through a seemingly endless array of techniques, our class has arrived at the point in our program where we spend five days crafting menus by five incredible chefs: Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Rick Bayless and Ming Tsai. Yet, despite the caliber of these culinary leaders, I didn’t initially feel excited about these lessons. Of course, I have immense respect for all these chefs, but, as a student, I have typically found that I learn more by studying a general concept than by following a recipe.

But oh, how I was wrong. Just like any line cook who has worked under a truly great chef, “merely following a recipe” turned out to be quite the lesson in and of itself.

When you’re attempting to recreate the classic dishes of these chefs’ fine dining establishments, recipes that might traditionally consist of three to four steps often require six, seven or even 17 steps to accomplish. Now, certainly you might ask, “If they’re such master chefs, shouldn’t they be able to accomplish delicious dishes moreefficiently?” The answer is yes—but these chefs aren’t just working fast, they’re actually redefining the limits of delicious.

Mario Batali’s Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads

Mario Batali’s Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads

Take, for example, Mario Batali’s Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads: Chef Batali doesn’t use just one type of onion, he uses four! Any good cook knows that shallots, white onions, red onions and scallions all have different properties, and Batali uses each to build complexity and interest in what could have been just any rustic offal dish. What’s more, he’s demonstrating a very clever chef skill: using multiple related ingredients in a single dish.

The other chefs’ menus proved just as educational. Both Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller’s recipes required me to reserve the cooking liquid leftover from steaming shellfish. Despite having frequently cooked clams or mussels before, I never previously considered transforming this cooking by-product into the base for a flavorful seafood soup or the starting point for a chowder-like sauce. In both cases, the results were brilliant.

Reserving the liquor of steamed mussels // Daniel Boulud’s famed “Billi Bi Cressonière”

Reserving the liquor of steamed mussels // Daniel Boulud’s famed “Billi Bi Cressonière”

In short, these lessons were “aha!” moments for me on two fronts. First and foremost, they increased my respect for not only these chefs, but also for every line cook who has ever worked in a fine dining establishment. Second, they conveyed the importance of a well-written recipe, both as an effective guide and an educational tool.

As the end of our program draws near, and we enter into lessons in which we will devise our own creative recipes, I have already begun to apply the lessons that I have learned from these culinary masters—and I can say with confidence that learning to cook a great chef’s signature dish is 100% more satisfying than simply ordering it at a restaurant.

Interested in checking out culinary school for yourself? Click here to learn more about my program at the Institute of Culinary Education.