In a three-day conference featuring many of the world's great chefs of Japanese and Japanese-influenced cuisine, it was the humble mastery of a soba maker that stole the show.
Yoshinori Horii, the eighth-generation chef-owner of Sarashina Horii, a Tokyo noodle restaurant continuously operated since 1789, outshined the flashy knife skills, fancy ingredients, and metaphorical presentations of Masaharu Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame), David Chang (the Momofuku restaurants), and Douglas Keane (Cyrus), among others, by expertly using his hands.
Horii blended buckwheat flour, udon flour, and water in a rapid, consistent motion. Moments later he packaged the flour into a ball that resembled a small wheel of light yellow parmesan cheese. Kneading it with powerful fingers, he quickly achieved another transformation, flattening it into the unmistakable shape of a deep-dish pizza crust. With a long wooden pin, Horii rolled the dough in each direction and made it a very thin square.
All this pummeling brought out a light green hue from the young buckwheat flour. He completed this effort by folding the dough and cutting it into long noodles an eighth of an inch thick. The crowd of 250 or so mostly chefs and food company executives were mesmerized by this simple magic, appreciating the speed, sheer physicality, and elegant simplicity required to make these non-extruded long noodles. He got a standing ovation.