At first glance you might not think a scientist and a chef have much in common. Sure the two follow recipes of sorts, but one gets to be creative with food while the other has to follow some pretty rigid rules, right? For Takashi Ohseki, executive chef brunch sous chef of Cork Wine Bar, the two roles coexist in his kitchen. “When you run an assay, it’s like making a recipe,” he says. “Only here in the kitchen we can adjust things more.”
The former biological science major and researcher put down the pipettes and traded them in for a chef’s knife when he realized that a career cooking sounded better than one in the research lab. While his upbringing had taught him that college and a job in an office setting was the right path, he knew he needed a change of pace. “You have to like what you do,” he says. So Ohseki studied at L’academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg and didn’t look back.
‘Chef Takashi Ohseki of Cork’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’
The chef who has lived in DC since 1999 has been at the helm of brunch service at Cork for just about three months now. “There’s a different clientele on 14th street,” he says, after having worked at J&G Steakhouse downtown. “There’s a lot of life on this corridor. I love the energy and it really impacts what we do. It’s nice to see the same faces and see people having a good time.”
In looking at the DC restaurant scene as a whole, Takashi has praise for the good variety and the skilled chefs. But he would like to see the dining public experiment a little more, and see smaller, more personal restaurants, as well as pop-up restaurants where the chefs can be even more creative and add their personal touch to the menu. “People here like a certain type of restaurant at a certain time,” he says. “The quality is there, but people shouldn’t be afraid of experimenting.”
Outside of the kitchen, Takashi admits he has two guilty pleasures: cigars and hockey. “I’ve loved the game since my days on Long Island, but have always been a Rangers fan,” the chef says. “I’ve recently began to rock the red but when it comes down to the two teams playing each other, like they say, you can take the kid out of NY but you can’t take the NY out of the kid.”
Seeing Takashi work in his kitchen, there’s kind of a jovial atmostphere. His staff is serious about the food, but they really seem to be having fun together. Still slightly new to the restaurant, Takashi pointed out to me, “It was easy to come right in [to Cork]. I’m coming into their [the line cook's] territory though, so I show respect.” Lately, he says a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico has been influencing his cooking. “It’s different from any place else,” he says. “There’s a certain smell in the air from this pinon wood that they burn in the winter.” He also offers praise for the New Mexican chiles that he purees and freezes when they’re in season so that he can use them throughout the year.
In addition to playing with southwestern flavors, Takashi’s experimentation in the kitchen is less formal than that of a scientist–”It’s hit or miss. Sometimes you put together dishes by error. It’s a lot of trial and error and keeping track of what pieces work.” Despite all the experimentation, Ohseki describes his food as “simple–but not in a bad way.” He says he focuses on making the basic, main flavors of a dish stand out.
Check back at 3 PM for Takashi’s recipe for ricotta-stuffed french toast, a recipe he created by accident while experimenting in the kitchen one day.