Being a chef isn’t just a profession. It’s a lifestyle.
Few of us could imagine spending 12 hours per day, five or six days a week in a hot kitchen prepping, perfecting and sending out dish after dish. Chef’s hours seem unnatural to the many of us whom cannot fathom going to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. nightly. And, maybe oddest of all, when chefs do get a night off, they often spend it at dining out.
I thought it would be fun to explore where local chefs eat on their days off by sharing a meal with some of them. My friend Ray Hayashi, formerly of MB Post and now at Fishing With Dynamite, was kind enough to take me to one of his favorite haunts, Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori in Gardena, a Japanese grill specializing in chicken.
“Coming here is kind of my leisurely time,” Ray said when I met him at the restaurant. “I hang out with my friends, have a couple of drinks, eat some really delicious food. It resembles yakitori places in Japan.”
I had never eaten yakitori, which translates simply to “grilled chicken.” You order the chicken by the skewers on an ordering sheet, like you would at a sushi restaurant. Choices range from the familiar (chicken breast and thigh) to the adventurous (chicken skin and liver). I let Ray order and we tried a little bit of everything.
Texture is a big focus in yakitori cuisine. The flavor is determined by where you dine. Each restaurant has its own special sauce that is kept in a clay pot next to the grill. A new batch is made when needed and added to the existing pot so the flavors blend. That sauce is considered the soul of the restaurant.
The ambiance is loud and fun. Everyone who walks in the door is greeted enthusiastically by the cooks and servers. Patrons sit for hours, slowly ordering a few skewers at a time while they chat. It is clear that, while their food is fantastic, Shin-Sen-Gumi was about more than just dining.
“It’s a great place to socialize and catch up,” he said. “It’s not just about getting full.”
Watch the video of our meal together here: