Each week, we highlight one (or, in this case, two) of the city’s great — but obscure — young chefs.
Names: Jamison Blankenship and Robert Cook
Age: 37 and 29, respectively
Backgrounds: Blankenship, Morimoto’s chef de cuisine, grew up in New Orleans, but didn’t start in the restaurant business until he was 31. He worked in Washington’s famous Citronelle, and for two years had his own restaurant in D.C., before joining Morimoto as a sous-chef when it opened two years ago.
Cook, the restaurant’s head sushi chef, had a Lana Turner moment as a sushi assistant at Koi: Masaharu Morimoto came in, saw Cook working the line, and offered him a job on the spot.
Why They Are Comers:
Blankenship, despite having only started cooking six years ago and never having gone to culinary school, has become Morimoto’s right-hand man after a meteoric rise. “I trust him completely,” says Morimoto. “He’s extremely skilled, but what we do here requires more spirit and heart than any particular skill.”
Cook is 29 years old and not Japanese. Those aren’t the mostly likely qualities of a head sushi chef at Morimoto, but the Iron Chef has faith in his hire. “Robbie knows how to prep and serve sushi in the Morimoto style better than anybody. To be a great sushi chef, one always has to keep learning. I’m still learning about sushi myself. Robbie…keeps getting better and better. I believe he is one of the best American sushi chefs.”
Self-described Style: Blankenship: “Well-balanced flavors and composition in keeping with chef Morimoto’s aesthetic.”
Cook: “Traditional Japanese with modern influences.”
Judge Them By: Blankenship: Ocean trout with miso turnip purée, and turnips and spring vegetables with turnip dashi and mustard oil. “I like that is has so few ingredients,” he says. “I can really play with the possibilities.”
Cook: His current sashimi special, buri daikon (wild-yellowtail sashimi with pomegranate, pickled daikon, plum vinaigrette, and basil purée). “It’s exceptionally wild and fatty. Not like typical farm-raised yellowtail. And everything plays off the fattiness.”
Guesstimated Time of Arrival: For now, both chefs plan to stay at Morimoto.