January 22, 2014

Shingo Gokan: Playing with Fire and Vodka

Monday night I learned just how a mixologist and chef working together can create a dazzling ensemble performance. Behind the bar was Shingo Gokan, who directs the cocktail program at Angel's Share in the East Village and has been in demand for guest bar-tending gigs and master classes around the world since winning a Bacardi global cocktail competition in 2012. Invisible until his curtain call at the end of the night was the man working the kitchen, Chef Takanori Akiyama of Saka-Mai on the Lower East Side, where the dinner was held. Akiyama belongs to a family of sushi chefs from Miyazaki, Kyushu, and specializes in a seductive brand of European-inflected Japanese cooking. 

The starter: Ao, Dassai 50 sake, and cucumber.

Gokan, not afraid to play with fire. 
Gokan seemed half magician during an evening in which he mixed ten drinks, all featuring Suntory's recently released Ao vodka, brewed from Japanese rice with waters that originate from the volcanic rocks of Sakurajima in Kyushu. He torched clove and cinnamon and allowed it to smoke braised Mugi Fuji pork belly and the accompanying Brulee Sour, a concoction of Earl Grey tea, Ao, lemon juice, orange blossom water and egg white. He did the same to the thyme that perfumed a drink of Ao, pureed orange, and Pedro Ximenez sherry (Gokan holds a sherry sommelier license from Spain), which accompanied Akiyama's dish of Long Island duck with a balsamic reduction. 

Tasmanian Ocean Trout and Mushroom Rice Pot

Rice pot kamameshi and Ao hojicha kotsuzake.

There were many other stunning combinations, including a Corn Nog of Ao, nigori sake, sweet corn, milk, shoyu and sansho pepper served with a lobster and lardo croquette, and a dessert cocktail of banana-infused Ao, raw coconut water and sugar paired with maple walnut gelato and Okinawan black sugar kuromitsu syrup.

The combination I loved most was a twist on a very traditional Japanese preparation: kamameshi, or clay pot-cooked rice, this version made with ocean trout, mushroom, salmon roe, mitsuba leaf and Tokyo scallions. The mixologist paired the dish with his take on kotsuzake, warm sake that has been infused with a roasted fish skeleton. (Here's a fascinating post I found on this exemplar of tip-to-tail fish consumption.) For his drink, Gokan torched air-dried snapper--filling the room with the scent I most associate with Japan--while pouring a mixture Ao and roasted green tea (hojicha) over the fish. He let the fish infuse the liquid briefly, then poured small cups of the drink to accompany the kamameshi. Gokan explained that in Japan, a meal often ends with o-chazuke, or hot tea poured over rice and sprinkled with nori and other seasonings. "The idea here," Gokan explained, "is to create o-chazuke in your mouth."