Chef Tadamichi Ota prepares a lobster dish for an episode of "Two Skinny Chefs."

Japanese chef
emphasizes basics

Tadamichi Ota found fame when he defeated the formidable Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai in the celebrated "Battle Octopus" on the Japanese cooking challenge show.

"Two Skinny Chefs" airs at 5 p.m. Sunday on KHON/Fox

That was 10 years ago, but people still talk about it.

Ota doesn't mind -- the show generated respect for chefs in Japan, he says, and drew a lot of young people into the industry. "It is overall good, although other television shows are truly more useful."

Those might include his own 2-year-old show, "Help Me Chef," with its how-to emphasis for homemakers, or Hawaii's "Two Skinny Chefs," which Ota taped during a visit to Honolulu two weeks ago. The show, with chefs Chai Chaowasaree and Beth-Ann Nishijima, airs Sunday.

On several episodes of "Iron Chef," much was made of the Kobe-based chef's "Ota Faction," with its supposed disdain for contemporary twists on tradition.

After beating Sakai, Ota sponsored several other challengers, his favorite target being Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, with his diamond earring and New York take on Japanese cuisine.

Ota admits his intractable nature was put on mostly for show, although he does firmly believe in the importance of maintaining tradition.

His own dishes, though, do offer a touch of fusion. On the show Sunday, he prepares one of his signature dishes, lobster steamed under a cloud of cotton candy. He even brought his own machine to spin the sugar.

Ota is a devoted culinary educator. Along with his cooking show and restaurant -- Hatago, in the Arima Hot Springs area -- he teaches in the high schools and community colleges and runs his own cooking school.

His emphasis is on respect for tradition and doing things from scratch instead of relying on packaged mixes. He teaches simple approaches, but "easy is not instant food," he warns.

For example, Ota tells his devotees, stop buying powdered hon dashi. He offers instead a simple no-cook dashi -- the bonito stock that is the foundation of Japanese cooking.

"The basic is very important."

Tadamichi Ota's Easy Dashi

1 liter cold water
1 4-inch square konbu
1 cup iriko (dried anchovy)
2 cups katsuo (dried bonito flakes)

Combine ingredients in large jar. Refrigerate three hours. Use as needed.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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