First Meal Back: Chef Hiroki Odo
Chef Odo helms the kitchen at HALL and o.d.o in Flatiron
In honor of all of the restaurants we dearly miss and can’t wait to get back to, we’re asking some of the country’s most decorated chefs to tell us about the meals that will be at the top of their list when Stay at Home orders finally lift. This is First Meal Back.
Tucked behind the Japanese all-day cafe and bar HALL in the Flatiron District is kaiseki restaurant odo, a 14-seat counter that garnered an elusive three-star rating from The New York Times. And in Midtown, you’ll find Kajitsu, a destination for Japan’s lesser-known, Buddhist-inspired shojin ryori cuisine.
What these restaurants share in common is their founding chef, Hiroki Odo, who opened the latter in 2014 before moving on to the former four years later. From sushi boxes and foie gras burgers to truffle-flavored mochi and meatball sandwiches, Odo is just as adept with proteins as he is with veggies, and it shows in the many fruits of his labor.
As part of our series First Meal Back, we connected with Odo in NYC to see what he’s been up to during the lockdown and what’s he is most looking forward to doing once the city opens back up.
InsideHook: Where do you want to go for your first meal after quarantine is lifted and restaurants are open?
Hiroki Odo (via translator): When the quarantine ends, we hope to continue construction on my new Japanese casual concept next to where HALL/odo is currently is located. I’m very excited for my customers to see what we have in store, and plan to make this one of my first meals post-quarantine. I look forward to sharing our hard work with friends, family and our neighborhood.
Who are you most looking forward to eating with?
Definitely my wife and friends. Although my wife and I have spent a lot of time in quarantine, it will be nice to go out to eat again. I haven’t been able to speak to my friends much at all, I’ve been busy at the restaurant doing takeout and delivery, so I really look forward to connecting with them after this is all over.
Where do you want to go for your first drink after quarantine is lifted and bars are open?
Absolutely at HALL. My spirits director, Jordan David Smith, who was formally the head bartender at Michelin-starred establishments such as Le Coucou and Atomix, is preparing a special re-opening cocktail for celebration. I look forward to having a nice night with my team and close friends, to thank and celebrate them for their kind support. They have been an integral part of helping us to keep moving forward.
Is there anywhere else you are really looking forward to going after the lockdown?
I really wanted to visit Eleven Madison [Park] one more time, but unfortunately that is no longer possible. I feel like that will be the case with many of favorites, and it saddens me. However, we’re in NYC with a lot of innovative people and know we will be stronger on the other side.
Where do you miss going the most?
I miss traveling to Upstate New York. I love nature and miss the fresh air. There is also a lot of fresh ingredients that my wife and I enjoy cooking with up there. I would love to support those businesses right now. I’m also really missing local, fresh fish. Most of our suppliers and fishermen are also unable to do their work.
What do you miss cooking the most?
I miss cooking the kaiseki cuisine that I specialize in. Each course of the kaiseki meal highlights a particular technique or preparation such as a grilled or pan-fried dish (Yakimono), a dish of simmered vegetables with meat or fish (Takiawase) and a simple but filling rice dish to close out the meal (Gohan). Unfortunately, these items do not travel well, so I have been unable to cook these types of dishes recently.
What have you been cooking at home?
I don’t cook at home often, since I cook all day. However, when I do cook, one my favorites is soba with scallion and Hudson River duck breast.
Have you found yourself using any interesting ingredients you typically don’t use?
Wasabi leaves from Japan. We got an exclusive supply from Japan because I wanted to try using something unique. Nobody in the U.S. really know how the wasabi leaves look and taste, so I am excited to use this ingredient. My favorite thing in my pantry are my sushi ingredients from Japan that I received when I visited in February 2020.
What’s been the toughest challenge of this whole experience for you?
Everything has been tough throughout this experience. However, my team and I are adapting every day and creating new services such as connecting Japan and NYC by delivering sushi and Japanese food. Before COVID-19, we didn’t do any delivery services, only pick up. We are donating part of the proceeds from takeout and delivery to the James Beard Foundation COVID-19 relief fund. This is a global pandemic and other countries are experiencing it at the same time. It makes me feel good that I can help suppliers in both the U.S. and Japan through my business and passion for food.
How do you think the restaurant industry will be after this? Will there be changes?
I don’t think it’ll ever be the same. I believe the delivery and catering service will become more popular and there will be more competition in that area. I also think private-room dining will become increasingly popular as well so there is no danger of being close to others.
Anything else you want to add or think people should know?
I think we have to all adapt and build a new world standard in the food industry. I might only cook, but I believe good food makes people smile and gives them a happy moment in a stressful time.
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