A week hence, Baltimore diners will begin speaking a strange new language, bending their tongues around opakapaka and onaga, which is not to omit furikake and lilikoi and so much seared shutome.
And you thought it was tough to say Yuri Temirkanov.
The name this time is Roy Yamaguchi, member of a burgeoning club of celebrity chefs to appear on television, publish a cookbook and open a restaurant or two. He serves Hawaiian/Asian/Euro- pean-fusion food, featuring fish (opakapaka, onaga and shutome), seasonings (furikake), fruit (lilikoi or passion fruit) and other foods of Hawaii.
Roy's of Baltimore, scheduled to open at the east end of the Inner Harbor next Wednesday evening, will make 25 since Yamaguchi opened his first restaurant outside Honolulu in 1988. In October, No. 26 is due to open in Philadelphia.
"It's not a question of `Why Baltimore?' " says Yamaguchi in a phone interview from New York, where he was visiting his restaurant in lower Manhattan. "We like to expand in all parts of the United States. We thought of Baltimore - I believe it's a metropolitan city, a lot of culture." Besides, he says, "since we do a lot of seafood," it seemed a natural. "There are not too many restaurants like ours in the state or the city."
Indeed, where else in this town can a person get a nice fines-herbes-seared Hawaiian opakapaka, or some oven-roasted, crab-crusted onaga? The learning curve could be steep on the front end, for both the patrons and the help.
Last week, the 200-seat restaurant was on medium simmer as construction guys worked on finishing touches and executive chefs from Roy's restaurants across the country gathered in the big open kitchen to begin the job of teaching the hired help how Roy's wants things done. The kitchen bar, which will seat 10 customers for a kibitzer's-eye view of the cooking, was stacked with fat ring binders holding the 59-page employees' instructional manual.
The managing partner, Kristopher T. Diemar, pointed out there's no recipe book on hand."It's all in here," says Diemar, pointing to the dark-haired cranium of a fellow dressed in a Rage Against the Machine T-shirt and some loose gray pants suitable for working out, lounging about or cooking. This is James Rosenberry, the executive chef, aka chef partner, a 32-year-old native of Hawaii who has evidently been too busy to experience culture shock since moving from outside Honolulu to Baltimore."It's scenic in a different way," says Rosenberry, suggesting that if the restaurant gig doesn't work out, he could have a future in the diplomatic corps. He's been cooking literally half his young life, having started out making marinara sauce in a little Italian place near where he grew up in Hawaii Kai, the Honolulu suburb where Roy's began.
Rosenberry, who started as a prep cook at Roy's in Hawaii Kai in 1991, is a walking example of Yamaguchi's approach to building a restaurant empire, which could be considered the culinary version of the "Oriole Way." Yamaguchi says he likes to develop the talent in his organization, and let expansion of the group follow the growth of the pool of people capable of running restaurants."Folks who are now line cooks and servers have the opportunity to be chefs somewhere down the line," says Yamaguchi. "We're not going to open another restaurant unless we have the individuals in place" who can run it.
A 45-year-old native of Japan, Yamaguchi arrives at this approach through formal food education and years of experience in some of the finest restaurants in Los Angeles, where he moved after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. In 1986, the Los Angeles Times included Yamaguchi among a group of hot young chefs who had arrived on the scene early in the decade, bringing a "derring-do, anything-goes style that worked." In his 1995 cookbook, Roy's Feasts From Hawaii, published a year after he was host of a cooking show on public television, Yamaguchi describes his approach as a mM-ilange of French, Italian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Polynesian cuisine.
The menu for Roy's of Baltimore, for example, includes blackened ahi with spicy soy mustard butter, wood-grilled Sichuan-spiced baby back pork ribs, jade pesto steamed Hawaiian white fish and pancetta-wrapped petite filet mignon. The sample menu shows entrees priced between $16 and $33.
Yamaguchi, who is planning to be in town for the opening Aug. 22, says he allows each executive chef to develop his own menu in the Roy's style, but not before they fax him a copy and allow him to veto anything he doesn't like. Each restaurant is encouraged to develop dishes that reflect regional tastes and ingredients. The crab cake, for example, will likely be adapted for a Maryland audience, says Rosenberry. Old Bay and, uh, lilikoi?"I'm used to cooking with opakapaka [Hawaiian pink snapper] and shutome [Hawaiian swordfish]," says Rosenberry. "I've got to be educating myself on rockfish."
Roy's of Baltimore is located at 720B Aliceanna St. For more information: 410-659-0099.