Eric Gower’s cooking freely mixes Japanese ingredients and Western ideas, but don’t call it fusion.
He thinks of his cooking as a break with sometimes limiting traditions, and the title of his cookbook ― The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen: Inspired New Tastes (Kodansha International, 2003; $27) ― perfectly expresses that philosophy.
Gower developed his idiosyncratic style after moving from Berkeley to Japan in 1988. Japanese cuisine was steeped in tradition, and he wasn’t necessarily interested in cooking the classic dishes. “I started cooking to suit my own palate,” Gower says. “I’m always trying to tweak things.”At the same time, he was surrounded by exciting new ingredients. “I started playing with things,” Gower says.
“I wound up buying ingredients and cooking them in unusual ways ― ways I liked.” He combines umeboshi (salted plums) with dates in a luscious braised pork dish, for instance, and eschews plain rice ― the sine qua non of the Japanese meal ― for golden “unplain rice” cooked with carrot juice and mustard.
Gower now lives in San Francisco and is transferring his breakaway style to the interesting ingredients available there. Shiso leaves grow in his garden, he roasts and grinds his own coffee beans, and he’s playing with filo. At a recent lunch, he served filo rolls filled with Moroccan-spiced chicken in a sushi-style set of six.
His recipes for miso soup with fennel and ginger, sweet scallops set off by tangy grapefruit, and casual pasta salad with mushrooms, edamame, and radicchio may inspire you to combine his unique flavors in your kitchen. But don’t stop there; Gower urges cooks to try new things for themselves. “If you follow your own palate, people will join you at the table and rejoice in your experiments.”