To “travel the world on one’s stomach” is a phrase I’ve heard used on many occasions to describe people who traverse the planet in search of great food. If I were religious, I’d call this “God’s work,” because I can think of no better way to spread and celebrate kitchen culture (which in turn builds goodwill and understanding) between civilizations. Instead, I’ll call it one of life’s nobler undertakings, and Marc Matsumoto of No Recipes and The Wandering Cook a culinary nobleman. Marc is doing great things on his two food blogs designed to share with us tastes of wonderful things originating not only in his own kitchen, but in locales around the globe. Traveling the world on his stomach, this industrious food photographer and recipe developer is tirelessly helping us discover new and delicious things with which to fill ours. Recently, he honored Flavorful World with answers to nine F.A.Q’s, and we’re delighted to share his insights on topics from small plates vs. main courses to culinary-themed tattoos.
Flavorful World: It’s a new year. Tell us a few new goals you hope to achieve in 2012 as a food blogger.
Marc Matsumoto: I’m bad at setting goals and even worse at achieving them. I just take
things one day at a time, the rest always seems to work itself out.
FW: What is your earliest memory of wanting to work with food professionally?
MM: I have a terrible memory, but some of my fondest (and only) childhood
memories are of food, whether pulling up daikon in my great grandmothers garden, or frosting my own birthday cake as a kid. It wasn’t until much later, well into a joyless marketing career that I realized I could actually make money doing something I love.
FW: Although tattoos are nothing new, getting culinary-influenced designs has been referred in the past year as “the new status symbol” among professional chefs. Do you feel this is because more chefs nowadays are receiving tattoos than used to? If so, to what do you think this apparent uptick in interest can be attributed?
MM: As someone that’s not inked, I can only guess as to what the motivations are. I suppose if I were the type to get a tattoo, it would have to be of something I really love, so for me it would definitely be something culinary. In the past, being a chef was considered blue collar work, but these days, with more and more celebrity chefs, it’s a status symbol, perhaps in the way investment banking was back in the 80’s.
FW: Describe for us your creative process in crafting new recipes.
MM: I don’t think I have one process for creating recipes, inspiration comes in many forms, but usually it has to do with a trip to the green market or to an ethnic grocery store. That’s why travel is such a big part of my lifestyle as it’s what inspires a lot of my food. I never trained as a chef so I never learned the rules I’m not supposed to break. It makes it easier to come up with novel dishes, as well as new ways to prepare old favorites.
Some recipes spontaneously materialize upon some kind of inspiration. Others are an iterative process that takes a few times to get right. Perhaps my most notorious recipe took about a decade to get right. It’s a recipe for tonkotsu ramen
(http://norecipes.com/blog/2009/12/30/tonkotsu-ramen-recipe/), a milky white pork bone broth noodle soup from Kyushu Japan.
FW: In an October 2011 Esquire article titled “The Death of the Entrée,” Tom Junod wrote, “Chefs are fetishizing the “small plate” while the main course has become an afterthought. It’s changing the way we eat, and that’s just fine.” When you dine out do you generally prefer small plates or main-course entrées? What is it about your preferred option that attracts you over the other, and to what extent do you agree or disagree with Mister Junod’s sentiment?
MM: I hate to say it, but this is such an American way of thinking. In Spain, eating tapas is a centuries old tradition. In the Guangzhou region of China, yum cha involves drinking tea and eating small dim sum plates. I grew up in a Japanese household where rice was accompanied by various small plates called okazu. It’s a cultural thing and while the eating culture may be shifting in the States, “small plates” are nothing new. Personally I like to eat like this because I get bored easily and it’s more fun to have a few bites of 5 different dishes than a belly full of 1 dish.
FW: Complete this sentence: “If I were ever to quit my job to own and operate a mobile food truck in a foreign country, I’d go to (insert city, country), my food truck would be named (insert food truck name), and would sell (insert food item(s) or style of cuisine).” What attracts you to the country and food item/cuisine you chose?
MM: Since I’m seriously contemplating doing just that, I can’t spill the beans, but let’s just say it would be my own brand of food. I don’t like using the word “fusion” because it’s become such a cliché, but my blog is all about tossing out traditional recipes and making good food better. Since some recipes have undergone centuries of refinement using ingredients local to the dish, the only way to one-up it is to use ingredients that don’t come from the region of the world the original dish is from.
FW: Winter 2012 Restaurant Week was earlier this month, and the low, fixed prices offered by participating restaurants are always a good incentive to taste a new cuisine. What new annual week-long culinary event would you implement if all logistic/financial resources were at your disposal? What would you hope for this event to accomplish with regard to engaging the general public?
MM: I’d get people to cook at home for a week. It saves money, it’s healthier, and you can tailor the menu to exactly what you want. I often hear people say they don’t have time to cook, but for me, it’s going out that takes more time. Making good wholesome food doesn’t
have to be time intensive. With a few exceptions, I generally don’t cook anything that takes over an hour to make and most of my weeknight meals take less than 15 minutes.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
MM: For having spent the better part of my professional life in marketing, I am utterly useless at coming up with one-liners and catch phrases. No Recipes just sort of fell into my lap and it wasn’t until much later that I realized how appropriate it was.
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
MM: Traveling. While I mostly travel for the food, I love learning about different cultures. It makes the world a smaller, less scary place.
*Note to Readers: Want to take an eye-opening culinary vacation without leaving your chair (except to trek into the kitchen for a second helping of something tasty)? Swing by No Recipes and The Wandering Cook. Follow Marc Matsumoto on Twitter @norecipes and tell him Flavorful World sent you. Marc is also a contributor on PBS’s food blog, Fresh Tastes, where you can keep up with his latest writings and recipes.