Lisa Jardine

Column: Food sherpa from the east goes west

jardineOn the front page of the food section of The New York Times on July 30, there was an interesting article about food sherpas, a new trend in bespoke travel guides. The idea is that, in order to truly experience a city, you must eat where the locals eat. I know many travelers who think that, by asking their hotel bellhop where they eat that accomplishes the same thing.

But who knows if your bellhop has good taste in food?

Enter the food sherpa. This person lives in the city or town you are visiting and works in the culinary industry in some manner. Or maybe he or she is simply a foodie with an intense love for their city. Either way, hiring a food sherpa can make for a very fun adventure. The fees vary depending on city and guide but, in my experience, they are well worth every euro or yen. While living in Japan, I had my own food sherpa on speed dial and when any friends or family came to town, I immediately called Reiko.

This week Reiko came to Westchester County.

She makes three trips to the United States each year on behalf of her company, Wishbone Tokyo Cooking and Catering, to do private cooking classes and private parties as well as give food tours in Tokyo and cooking classes there. And if you book early enough during her stay in the U.S., you even get to eat fish and other fresh ingredients directly from the Tsukiji market.

So what does one do when one of your favorite chefs comes to town? Why, you go food shopping. And eat a lot.

Reiko was in Rye for a private cooking class and dinner at a client’s home for seven couples. She works with the hosts ahead of time via email to select the menu and the price of the meal corresponds to their selection. For this particular client, she was making noodles and dumplings as well as a few Reiko specialties. I wasn’t surprised by the request, as it’s harder to find good noodles and dumplings in Westchester than it is to find other types of Japanese food and everyone loves them.

Reiko brought a lot of the dry ingredients with her from Japan, but we made a quick stop at Daido‑522 Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains‑right as she hopped off the Metro North from New York City, where she was amazed with the breadth of Japanese products.

“Are we close to Keio?” she said.
The following day we visited Kam Sen Asian Market, billed as “The Largest Asian Market in Westchester.” While there, we quickly went through the aisles, filling in the holes on her shopping list. This market is large and not only covers Asia, but some parts of Latin America as well. We did fairly well with the list, however, we were on the hunt for Kafir Lime leaves, which went unfound.

We were getting hungry from all the food shopping and I had read about a new Korean “fast food” restaurant, So Gong Dong Tofu in Hartsdale‑known as SGD to the locals‑that I wanted to try. Only six minutes away, it was the perfect place for a quick lunch. It’s not often you find exceptional food in a strip mall, but SGD changed my mind.

When dining with a chef and writing a restaurant review, it’s necessary to order almost everything on the menu. We were not disappointed that we did. Like most Korean restaurants, we were served an assortment of pickled vegetables in small dishes that comes with your meal. Watch out for the pickled daikon with large rings of sliced fresh jalapeno; delicious, but you will lose a layer of skin in your mouth.

The Kim Chi was just the right amount of sour and spicy with a nice crunch. For the main course, we ordered Soondubu Jjigae, which is a typical Korean stew made with tofu and various other ingredients that you choose. We chose Kim Chi as our main ingredient, extra spicy served over Kalguksu, which are thick noodles. There is a list of things you can choose from. We also had Bibimbap, a signature Korean dish, which translates to mixed rice. We ordered ours with seafood and it comes to the table sizzling. A waiter mixes it all together in front of you, adding just the right amount of chili pepper sauce. To finish off the main courses, we added an order of beef short ribs and a crispy seafood pancake.

The food was fabulous. We over-ordered because we wanted to try everything, but, if you ordered the correct amount, the bill would have been extremely reasonable. This is one place I will visit again, often, especially during the winter months.

We rushed back home to load all of our ingredients in the car to take over to the client’s home so Reiko could start cooking. It was a gorgeous evening and the table was set beautifully outside in the garden. The host had a smile on her face because she wasn’t cooking that night; Reiko was in the kitchen.

To set up your own private party/cooking class in the U.S. or Japan, or to visit Tsukiji, contact Reiko on facebook: Tsukiji Fish Market and Beyond.

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

And follow her on Twitter,