Photo courtesy of Benihana.
News broke this weekend that Rocky Aoki, founder of the Benihana chain of restaurants -- headquartered in Miami -- died Thursday night at the age of 69. According to a family spokesperson, the cause of death was pneumonia; but Aoki had also suffered from cirrhosis, diabetes, and hepatitis C. Aoki founded the seminal Japanese steakhouse in Manhattan in 1964, introducing hungry New Yorkers to his now ubiquitous version of teppanyaki cooking. He played a continued role in the company's development until 1998, when he resigned following an SEC investigation pegging him for insider trading.
It's a bummer that Aoki's passed on, but this guy lived a legendary life anyway (founding a porno rag called Genesis, fathering his kids with several different mothers, nearly killing himself multiple times racing speedboats). New York Magazine did a great piece on him a couple of years ago. Anyway, his legacy will definitely live on, even though Benihana-style teppanyaki is often dismissed as garish. I've eaten teppanyaki in Japan half-a-dozen times, and the chefs that man the ultra-hot iron teppans there do it a bit differently. The best way to describe it is they have an almost samurai-like level of concentration regarding their cooking. The process is much more exacting -- about making sure that every last piece of steak, squash, or onion is sliced and cooked perfectly. Personally, I can see the merit in both styles of teppanyaki: I admire the dedication a serious chef might take with his or her craft, and can see why they wouldn't want to rely on theatrics to impress diners. At the same time, who doesn't love a good show? I still have trouble catching those shrimp in my mouth, though.
Anyway, let's raise our saki cups to Rocky, without whom we couldn't have this conversation in the first place.
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