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Cooking | THE CALIFORNIA COOK

The master of fusion

At Beacon, Kazuto Matsusaka finds a balance between the sensation he created then and the food he wants to cook now.

March 02, 2005|Russ Parsons | Times Staff Writer

Thus began more than a decade of bouncing from one job to another, the responsibility for which he quickly owns up to.

"I had worked for Wolfgang for so many years, my business sense was a little bit up in the air," Matsusaka says. "I didn't realize that the reality of the restaurant business was completely different from what I'd been doing the last 10 years. At Chinois, you opened the door and people just fell in. It didn't really matter what you served and it didn't really matter what you charged. When I opened Zenzero, I realized the reality was a little different. But I wasn't mature or experienced enough for it to work."

There were good things to come out of it, though. Foremost among them was meeting his wife, Vicki Fan, who worked as a line cook at Zenzero and is now general manager at Beacon. They married in 1996.

The daughter of Shanghainese immigrants, she graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and is the one Matsusaka credits for having the business sense in the family.

"I just am not a good businessman -- I don't think about the money," he says. "After I leave the restaurant at night, I try not to think about the business part of it at all. I just want to make the menu and cook the food."

Fan is also a good cook and brings an expertise with Chinese cuisine. The braised pork belly for Beacon's kakuni udon is based on her mom's recipe, though it has been filtered through Matsusaka's Japanese sensibility. The original is very Chinese, long-cooked with soy and rock sugar. The Beacon version is lighter in flavor, the pork belly braised in mirin sweet wine instead, and served with brothy udon noodles and crisp baby bok choy and bamboo shoots.

"My mom's is in a sticky brown sauce, and it has that lip-coating taste Chinese people love," Fan says. "But for everybody else's palate, we need to lighten up a little."

The partnership at Beacon, which also includes pastry chefs Rochelle Huppin Fleck and Lorraine Tajiri, took three years to find just the right spot for the restaurant. Finally it happened almost by accident. A friend in the real estate business had been bugging Matsusaka and Fan about the location for months before they agreed to look at it.

"We were not too excited about being in Culver City, to tell you the truth," says Matsusaka. "I don't think we'd even been here except to go to [restaurant supply store] Surfas. But [our friend] kept pushing.

"Finally Vicki and I decided to come take a look, and it turned out to be the perfect spot. The guy who owns the complex had kept it open for four years looking for just the right concept. For him, it wasn't about just the money, but about finding the right food to fit in with the rest of the businesses.

"And now we really like Culver City. There are normal people here. I think we did pretty good."

*

Avocado salad

Total time: 20 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: From Kazuto Matsusaka and Vicki Fan of Beacon restaurant

Dressing

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup mirin

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Thai or

Vietnamese fish sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

Combine the rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil in a small jar. Cover tightly and shake well to combine. Use immediately. If you need to set the dressing aside, shake well just before using.

Salad

2 Hass avocados, halved, pitted and peeled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup thinly sliced Tokyo negi (available in the produce section of Japanese

markets)

24 cilantro leaves, no stems

2 cups microgreens or mixed baby greens

1/2 cup dressing

2 teaspoons white and black toasted sesame seeds for garnish

1. Place the avocado halves cut side down and cut into one-fourth inch thick slices. Arrange the slices on 4 salad plates and season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the sliced negi and cilantro leaves on top.

2. Arrange a small portion of microgreens or mixed greens alongside the avocado. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons dressing on each serving and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Each serving: 247 calories; 4 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams fiber; 19 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 868 mg. sodium.

__

Kakuni udon

Total time: 3 hours, 20 minutes

Servings: 8

Note: From Kazuto Matsusaka and Vicki Fan of Beacon restaurant

Udon dashi (broth)

1/3 piece kombu (3-by-1 3/4 -inch piece)

1 3/4 quarts water

1 ounce (about 5 1/3 cups large flakes) dried bonito flakes

1 cup Usukuchi-style soy sauce

2 cups mirin

1. Bring the kombu and water to a boil and cook 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the bonito flakes. Let sit until the bonito flakes sink to the bottom of the liquid, about 20 minutes. Strain and discard the flakes.

2. Add the soy sauce and mirin to the broth and return to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool until ready to use. The broth can be prepared several hours in advance. Makes 8 cups.

Braised pork belly

2 tablespoons oil

1 (4-pound) pork belly

1 bunch green onions, cut into

3-inch pieces

2 ounces ginger, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 carrot, peeled and cut into

2-inch pieces

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