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Zama Chef Hiroyuki "Zama" Tanaka Can't Live Without Moribashi Chopsticks

Hashtag #EaterChefReveals to get in on the fun.

Welcome to Chef Reveals, a new feature to Eater Philly and @eater_philly on Instagram, in which we display the day-to-day essentials of the city's top chefs — all shot from above by the very talented TommyBaboon. This week, take a gander at Zama and CoZara chef Hiroyuki "Zama" Tanaka's absolute prized essentials.

Chef Hiroyuki "Zama" Tanaka is self-taught, a fact maybe a little jarring considering the type of training, usually a life-long apprenticeship, required of a highly-acclaimed sushi chef. In fact, Zama's introduction to the culinary arts was a far cry from a sushi bar. For him, it began with a spatula on a griddle, flipping burgers at Camp Zama (a-ha!), an American Army base in Kanagawa Prefecture. It wasn't until his days at now-shuttered Genji (soon to become SUGA), that the Japanese-born chef was able to learn the craft he was destined to master. Despite his unconventional beginnings, chef Zama has become one of Philadelphia's elite sushi chefs, his eponymous Rittenhouse restaurant, Zama, earning top accolades for a sublime and authentic Japanese eating experience, be it an expertly arranged plume of chirashi for lunch, or better yet, an eight-course omakase for dinner.

Explained in clockwise order from the picture above (start top left):

Manpo Kurata tweezers: Japanese hand-forged, mirror-polished stainless steel tweezers are considered to be the world's highest grade. Zama waited over a year for his very own, which he keeps in their Paulownia box.

Katsuobushi grater box: instead of buying packaged bonito flakes, Zama and his team shave "fresh" bonito. Dried, fermented, smoked bonito is pushed through the wooden mandoline-esque device, its shavings caught inside the box underneath. Throw them into boiling water for a quick dashi.

Book of recipes: though creative in their own right, chefs constantly pull from recipes for inspiration. Zama's book of choice? Masterchef Nozaki's picture-less cookbook. "I have to imagine what it's supposed to look like."

Moribashi chopsticks: The subtle nuances of sushi are too delicate to tamper with, so between plates, Zama give his metal chopsticks a quick wipe, so as to not contaminate any other product with the previous dish — which can't be done with plastic or wood.

Rice crop:  Every new crop season, Zama's Kagayaki rice supplier sends proof of the new season: a fresh rice crop, a sign for good things to come.

Japanese wasabi: the Play-doh-esque paste of green plopped next to your sushi roll is nothing like the fresh Japanese wasabi you might tuck under your glimmering slice of baby yellowtail at Zama. The chef imports fresh wasabi from Japan and grates it in-house. The result is an intense herbaciousness, almost floral paste; clean with no astringency, so as to not distract you from the fine distinctions that sing with every bite.

Itoyori, or "Butterfly bream": Like Mother of Pearl, the skin of this fish is kaleidoscopic, every color under the sun shimmering as its bends in the able hands of its chef. A razor-thin slice gets draped atop toothy rice, its flesh gradient from a deep-red to pale white.

Mitsuba: Japanese parsley

Myoga: baby ginger shoot

Shiso: Japanese mint leaf

Yuzu: Asian citrus fruit, its zest plays a key role in Japanese cooking

Snakewood knife: The handle of Zama's custom-made Japanese knife is made from snakewood tree, named after its snake-like coloration and grain.


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