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5 Questions for Kuniko Yagi

February 04, 2013|By Betty Hallock
  • Kuniko Yagi is executive chef of the new Hinoki & the Bird.
Kuniko Yagi is executive chef of the new Hinoki & the Bird. (Dylan Jeni Photography )

Kuniko Yagi is the executive chef of the newly opened Century City restaurant Hinoki & the Bird, focusing on the flavors of Japan and Southeast Asia. Yagi’s from Maebashi City, Japan, and though she has no formal culinary training, she landed a job in the kitchen at David Myers’ Sona after moving to Los Angeles. She most recently was executive chef at Myers’ Comme Ca and appears on this season’s “Top Chef.”

What’s coming up next on your menu? I’m thinking of a pasta dish, but not an Italian dish, rather something more our style here at Hinoki & the Bird, like handmade buckwheat pasta with duck confited in Asian spices. Also, we just bought a French fry slicer so we’re working on developing our own fries here at Hinoki. I’ll probably make them with russet potatoes because I really like their texture and earthy flavor.

Latest ingredient obsession? Koji – it’s fermented rice grain. We use koji to make all of our rice here at Hinoki, like the organic grilled rice. The flavor is sweeter and milder.

What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again? I like Hiko Sushi on National. Every time I go I just let the chef serve me whatever he wants.

The one piece of kitchen equipment you can’t live without, other than your knives? Cutting board! I’m using this amazing Japanese rubber cutting board at the restaurant. It’s gentle on the knife and really preserves the sharpness.

The last cookbook you read – and what inspired you to pick it up? “Japanese Farm Food” by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. This is super traditional Japanese cuisine for home cooks. When I read this book, I see my mother’s home cooking and helps keep those memories alive for me. The foreword is by Patricia Wells, whom I also love.

Hinoki & the Bird, 10 W. Century Drive, Los Angeles, (310) 552-1200,

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