Black Garlic Miso Dashi Brings Japanese and Mediterranean Cuisine Together
Clams, lamb chorizo, kabocha, and black garlic miso dashi. All photos courtesy of Angela DeCenzo Photography


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Black Garlic Miso Dashi Brings Japanese and Mediterranean Cuisine Together

I’m not just talking about making uni pasta, necessarily. I’m talking about incorporating things like umeboshi salted plums and dashi to traditional Italian dishes like rabbit and olives.

"'Mediterrasian" was a word coined by my mom but it depicts the roots of a lot of my experiences in cooking: Japanese kitchens and Mediterranean food. This is the concept behind my pop-up restaurant in San Francisco, Pink Zebra.

This combination of cuisines reflect everything that I am: I am slightly bizarre, I am not a normal person, and everything I do is very personal and soulful. I started working in Japanese kitchens when I was really young and I worked my way up. I worked in sushi bars for six years until I realized that there was a whole other world of food out there that I didn't know anything about.


If you think about it, there are a lot of similarities between these two cuisines: how they preserve food; how history has treated the areas; how these two cuisines influence so many other cuisines; how both regions fall in a certain end of the spice trade; and how both areas fall in the same latitude on the Earth with similar climates. You also have the regional food traditions that both cultures have specialized in for hundreds years. For example, if you go to Parma in Italy, they only make ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you go to places in Japan like Kyoto, people have been making soy sauce and tofu in the same facilities for hundreds of years, too. In Italy you have wine; in Japan you have sake.


Dashi-braised beets, smoked date, asafoetida yogurt, pistachio, radish green dukkah, red mustard green salsa

I'm not just talking about making uni pasta, necessarily. It's more about taking traditional Italian or Japanese recipes and seeing what you can replace from a whole other side of the world. I'm talking about incorporating things like umeboshi salted plums to traditional Italian dishes like rabbit and olives. I screwed around with this idea a few different ways and ended up coming up with an execution with artichokes and potatoes where the rabbit was cooked in rabbit dashi and umeboshi sofrito. These flavors might be really different but it works really well. Furikake is similar to bottarga, in a way. It's just really concentrated flavors of things that were normally thrown away.

I don't think my time at Mission Chinese Food directly inspired this Mediterrasian thing I've got going on. Maybe subconsciously it did. What I pulled from working there was the ability to produce things in an unconventional environment with people that you can't really communicate with—yet still have it all work out and be awesome. Mostly, it was logistical skills.


I didn't grow up eating this kind of food, since my family grew up broke in San Diego. I actually grew up eating what I call "poor people food," things like rice and meat patties. My grandfather was a chef in the Navy and we would go shopping in the Navy commissary often. I do have memories of making dinner for my sister and me, and adding soy sauce to absolutely everything. We used to call it "super sauce" as a joke back then because we would add it to things like spaghetti sauce and hamburger meat. (Growing up, my parents worked probably as much as I do now as a chef.)

I prefer the word 'multi-influential' over 'fusion' to make it not as singular.

I don't strive for any Michelin stars for this food—I almost feel like I'm too old for that shit. This is a young man's game, man. I'd just like to get to a point where I can open up my own spot. A counter situation would be really cool, especially because I feel like most people who come in and eat my food really like it because it is interesting and different. I feel like the majority of the restaurants that are opening in San Francisco lack a lot of personality. Sure, they are clean and they are pretty, but you wouldn't be able to gauge who the chef or owner is just by looking at it or eating the food, though you might be able to make out who the designer was.

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Hurricane Popcorn: Furikake, crispy pig ears

I grew up going to restaurants with a lot of character—weird and quirky places where you remember the cooks, and the walls had weird posters on them—and that has always stayed with me. These are more my style. I know a lot of modern diners in San Francisco don't want to see tchotkes nowadays. But I think we are in a pretty good spot in the world of food, because you don't have to restrain yourself from anything. As long as you have good food, people will accept it. Even ten years ago, chefs weren't able to have sashimi, gazpacho, and pasta on the same menu. Fast forward to now, and this would be exciting in a restaurant (as long as the dishes work and make sense, that is).


The word "fusion" has become a word that a lot of chefs don't want to be referred to as. Personally, I don't care. People can call things whatever they want. I never really clearly understood the meaning of the word, and I think it is a bit dated now. I prefer the word "multi-influential" over "fusion" to make it not as singular, because if you are cooking this type of food, you will be most likely be capturing essences of many different cuisines and not just a couple.

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Jesse Koide

I'm not really trying to change the world with my food. What I'm trying to do is just make delicious and fun dishes that emulate my experiences. For me, this happens to be Japanese and Mediterranean food. So far, I'm happy with myself and what I'm doing.

As told to Javier Cabral

Jesse Koide is the founder and chef behind Pink Zebra, a pop-up restaurant in San Francisco that blends Japanese and Mediterranean food. He is an alum of Mission Chinese Food. Currently, Pink Zebra is looking for its next long-term location but you can visit Pink Zebra's website for more info.