If you’ve read previous posts from Coast Culinary Collective, this one is a bit of a cross between CCC’s “Fanning the Flames” and “Under the Radar” series. Fanning the Flames for the Q&A with a local food provider. The Under the Radar reference is one of embarrassment as somehow we missed trying Oh! Miso’s food sooner than this.
Masafumi Okuno or “Oku” of pop-up Oh! Miso is making food completely unique on the Coast. As mentioned, I’m feeling a bit abashed at only just tasting his efforts recently despite the fact he’s been serving people in Gibsons and Sechelt for months. I did know of him but have to admit I was skeptical of a noodle pop-up in our community. But he and I sat down to a chat a couple of weeks ago at which time I discovered the man has chops. He cooked in one of my favourite Japanese food establishments in Vancouver, Hapa Izakaya as well as with a number of chefs I know. Very creative food, “Under the Radar”. So definitely my bad.
I finally tried one of his creations last week and was more than pleasantly surprised. His ramen is something of a fusion or hybrid of the classic noodles dish. My take: a combination of Japanese/ Thai and Malaysian or with influences of. I had his Dan Dan Noodles in Miso broth and it’s it’s own thing. The broth was rich and balanced and to my surprise, his noodles a stand-out. I don’t say that because I doubted his ability but rather that I can’t recall having had noodles in ramen that actually made an impression of their own. Oku makes his own from scratch and they’re exceptional.
That Oku is making some of the dishes he is as a pop-up and not as a brick and mortar establishment is most impressive. I will be trying as many of his creations as possible and encourage you to do the same. He’s a traveler so could again get itchy feet once the pandemic ceases to be an issue. Therefore get in there and eat up while you can!
This is the “Fanning the Flames” Q&A segment with guest Oku.
Q. Did you start cooking in Japan?
A. I began my culinary career in Japan at the age of 18 after graduating from high school. The first restaurant I worked at was in a dive bar type setting that featured a lot of jazz music. There I mainly bartended and helped with small prep for pizza and pasta service. The chef was a good mentor to me. Little by little he trained me to cook and that is how I got my start in the industry.
Q. What inspired you to get into restaurant industry?
A. When I was travelling I really enjoyed street food. I was inspired by this type of food and how good it was. You see, I like to eat food. Good food! So I wanted to create good food so that I could eat it all the time. The second restaurant I worked at was for an OLD SCHOOL Japanese chef. He was strict in the way of a good teacher. He taught me knife excellence but most importantly he nurtured my chef’s motivation.
Q. Did you do any formal training in the kitchen?
A. All of my experience I have learned on the job, sometimes from formally educated chefs. I’ve never been to culinary school myself.
Q. Describe your style of food
A. My style of food is designed to make people feel good. That is my goal. I enjoy all genres of cooking. I respect the origin of the dish by asking my Mexican friends how to authentically prepare a mole sauce, by asking my Italian friends how to authentically prepare a pizza dish, etc.
Q.When we talked you mentioned you’d travelled and cooked in other part of Asia. Where and how did your experiences there influence what you make now?
A. When I was backpacking in Northern Thailand I gained experience from street vendor mamas. Usually I like to talk to the chef and figure out their origin story, kind of like how you are doing in this article. Since I didn’t speak much Thai and they didn’t speak much Japanese or English we would have a conversation with food. This gave me the chance to experience Thai food culture in a genuine, hands on way.
My experience with these vendors gave me the knowledge on how much sweet, how much spice, how much fish oil to add to dishes. Now I have the basic intuition to create the perfect balance of flavours in my dishes.
Q. Of the places you’ve been, which made your favourite food?
A. Every country has a best and different food, so it is hard to say. If I had to choose I would pick tacos in Mexico. This is another street food that I love. They are so simple and delicious, good pico de gallo is everything. I could eat them forever. I could eat them right now.
Q. Let’s say you’ve just finished work and you want to get beer and something to eat: where are you going?
A. After work I religiously go to Tapworks for a beer. I drink their backwoods hazy IPA. It is so good. For some special food I like to go to drift cafe & bistro. Their menu is always changing, I like that. I am never disappointed and always gain some culinary inspiration after having a meal there.
Q. Is there particular chef you really admire or would like to work with, why?
A. I don’t admire big name chefs. I respect all chefs but I prefer to work with cooks around the world. I have learned so much from mothers who cook for their families, vendors who sell food on the street, people who live one day at a time. Those are the experiences that I aspire to have again because that is the type of food experience I want to give to others.
Q. Back to travel, what countries would you like to go ( after C19) for trying food?
A. After covid I would like to go to India and try different types of curries. I would like to try everything from south to North.
Being a pop-up, Oh! Miso can be found at Persephone, Tap Works and the Gibsons Public Market. The easiest way to find where to get that bowl of steaming noodles would be to check his Instagram.