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Bruce Miyahara — “OG-San” Marries Food Passion with Service — Part 2

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Decades later, can you tell us how you made a seemingly radical move into food interests and cooking?

I’ve always enjoyed cooking and food! Even in Boy Scouts, with the Seattle Buddhist Church Troop 252, I loved cooking on camping trips. It was pretty simple stuff… “Minute Rice,” shoyu (soy sauce)-and-sugar hot dogs, and canned tuna fish!

At one point, I wanted to get more serious about cooking. One day, my wife Dana noticed that chef Tom Douglas was offering a weeklong food Tom Douglas Summer Camp and encouraged me to do it. I did and ended up continuing every summer with my wife for the next seven years – a true foodie staycation!

Chef Mutsuko Soma and Bruce delivering bento lunches to Kawabe House 2022. Photo Vivian Katagiri

Chefs Douglas, Eric Tanaka (“ET”) and Mutsuko Soma (“Soma”), and celebrity food influencer/chef Kenji Lopez-Alt have most influenced my culinary journey. Douglas and ET have exposed me to everything related to food from meeting professional chefs, to restaurant operations and suppliers, as well as the importance of supporting local causes like “Food Lifeline” and preserving Bristol Bay salmon.

Lopez-Alt’s writings at “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Serious Eats” and his “YouTube and The Food Lab” book have connected the science behind flavors and technique. Breaking down any meat or fish, for example, is just an anatomy lab; cooking is basically a chemistry or physics experiment.

My science education spurred my interest in “koji,” which is a fungus used for making sake, miso, and shoyu. The biochemistry of koji and its influence on flavors is fascinating. Its enzymes act on proteins to release glutamic acids, one of the components of umami (the savory taste of broths and cooked meats). Shiokoji (salt koji) smoked salmon* is an easy favorite recipe I learned from Soma.

*Shiokoji (Salt Koji) Smoked Salmon

  • Spread shiokoji over a salmon filet or pieces (I make my own shiokoji but I also use Blue Mountain shiokoji, available at local gourmet stores or online)
  • Cover and refrigerate 4-24 hours
  • In a smoker or grill, smoke low (180º F) for about an hour
  • Raise temperature to 250º F
  • Remove when salmon reaches 125º F
  • Serve with rice or ochazuke (rice in green tea)

Tell us about your long partnership with Chef Soma and Seattle’s Kamonegi and Hannyatou restaurants.

ーI have always wanted to understand Japanese cooking beyond sukiyaki, teriyaki and tempura. So I jumped at the opportunity to learn a little more about “washoku” from the award-winning Chef Soma. (“Wa” is an old term for Japanese people and “shoku” is cuisine, so washoku has come to mean traditional Japanese cuisine).

I met Soma at a Tom Douglas Summer Camp soba demonstration when she was the chef and owner of Miyako in the Wallingford neighborhood. Soma is probably the most creative chef I have worked with and learned from.

Bruce preparing duck tsukune meatballs at Kamonegi 2022

When she opened her current restaurant, Kamonegi, I asked if I could help and she put me to work making duck meatballs or “tsukune.” Soma is nationally known for her handmade soba noodles. Her signature namesake dish is Kamonegi Soba with Duck, Leek and Tsukune.

Fast forward six years and I figure I have made 90,000 duck meatballs!

Four years ago, Soma and a partner decided to open a sake and izakaya (small plate) bar called Hannyatou in a small café two doors from Kamonegi. Today, I can explain what the different sake are such as junmai, honjozo, ginjo, daiginjo, nama genshu, and yamahai.

You recently met local leader Ron Chew, who introduced you to a ground-breaking project for Asian Native Hawaii and Pacific Islander seniors. Tell us what sparked your inspiration and what is your vision?

About a year ago, community leader Ron Chew invited me to lunch with the health center staff at Harry Chan’s “Tai Tung Restaurant.” Ron presented a proposed new project called “Aging-In Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly” (AiPACE). It is intended to help elderly to age in-place and delay or prevent the need for assisted living through providing clinical and other services.

As the staff explained the proposed floor plans, I noticed a kitchen and large activity area. Beyond the proposed senior meal program, I envision a kitchen and gathering space for the entire community to access.

Why not create a community kitchen with state-of-the-art commercial equipment and designed for enjoying great food and education at the same time? Community building around food can involve envisioning, preparing and enjoying foods and cleaning up after meals. It can be a powerful fundraising and team-building experience which I can personally attest to.

That is how my concept for the “Rice for All Collective” was born. Chefs and food enthusiasts have all expressed strong support and encouragement for this project.

What challenges are you facing with such a project and what are your ideas for tackling them?

Bruce and wife Dana with grandsons Gray and Max 2021. *Note Bruces T shirt

Strategically, costs can be prohibitive. For example, commercial kitchen equipment is expensive. With $30,000 for a walk-in refrigerator and $40,000 for a couple of wok burners, you are quickly getting into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Add in tables, chairs, tableware, cookware, etc. and now we are into a million dollars.

I would like to reach out to retail and wholesale food suppliers and stores. For events, we would need free or reduced-cost wholesale produce and protein. We will also need many trained volunteers to keep costs down for fundraising and long-term sustainability.

Chef Tom Douglas and Bruce at Douglas Palace Kitchen re opening 2023

I have initiated four fundraisers so far. The first was sponsored by chefs Douglas and ET through Serious Pie Restaurant where cook Maisie Stewart-Cook prepared a four-course meal based on what her Filipina grandmother made for her.

We later held two events at Hannyatou: a coursed dinner by Grayseas Pies and another by myself with “yaki onigiri” (grilled rice balls) and “ochazuke” specials. Lupo and Kamonegi have contributed $1 per cocktail from events. Our most recent effort involved connecting Musang restaurant owner Melissa Miranda with a retirement fundraising event for outgoing ICHS CEO Teresita Batayola.

Looking ahead, a community-centered, culinary space is what I would like to help create and I am excited to partner with all to bring it to life!

* * * * * 

Bruce Miyahara

Aging in Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly


*This article was originally published in The North American Post on July 20, 2023. 


© 2023 Elaine Ikoma Ko / The North American Post

Bruce Miyahara food service Hannyatou (restaurant) International District Kamonegi (restaurant) Mutsuko Soma public health restaurants Seattle Tom Douglas United States Washington
About the Author

Elaine Ikoma Ko is the former Executive Director of the Hokubei Hochi Foundation, a nonprofit that helps The North American Post, Seattle’s Japanese community newspaper. She is a member of the U.S.-Japan Council, an alumnus of the Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD) to Japan, and leads spring and autumn group tours to Japan.

Updated April 2021

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