When Katsuya Fukushima started cheffing two decades ago, every tool he needed to use at events fit into a traditional knife roll. Then he spent eight years working alongside José Andrés — including serving as chef de cuisine of the original incarnation of Minibar. There was a season at Ferran Adrià’s visionary El Bulli. Finally, Fukushima teamed up with his partners, Yama Jewayni and Daisuke Utagawa, to create their renowned restaurant group, which now includes Daikaya, Bantam King, Haikan, Hatoba and Tonari.
Along the way, there were innumerable events, countless dishes. He began needing more tools and a broader array of them. At some point, he outgrew the knife roll. Fukushima began using a classic red toolbox. That was too heavy and bulky, so he transitioned to canvas bags. Those didn’t work well either.
In 2016, he was in Tokyo with his girlfriend and spotted a dapper black leather bag at the Comme des Garçons boutique. The sleek tote, featuring two zippered pockets running along each side of the interior, looked like something a doctor might carry on house calls — or a fashionable chef could use for his kitchen gear.
But with a price tag of $250, it seemed like too much of a splurge. Fukushima left it on the shelf, trying not to regret his frugality. Shortly afterwards, his girlfriend surprised him with it as a gift. He’s been bringing it to events ever since.
What goes into the bag depends on what he’s cooking. He has a thousand different kitchen tools stored in the backroom of his home.
Katsuya Fukushima’s tools. Photo by Scott Suchman.
“I’m a pack rat,” he admits. “Sometimes my girlfriend will look at something in there and ask, ‘Why do you need this?’ I tell her, ‘One day I’m gonna use it.’”
When he unpacks the bag the day we meet, he reveals some of his favorite chef toys. In a tangerine-colored drawstring bag, there’s another gift from his girlfriend: a Hermès Attelage stainless steel spoon, the looping end of the handle modeled after a stirrup.
“Usually, chefs carry a spoon in their back pocket to taste stuff,” he says. “I figured I should do it in style.”
There’s a hockey stick-shaped brush tipped with horsehair, purchased in Japan. He uses it to clean off one of his pet peeves: the crusty bits that cling to the inside of a pot as a liquid reduces. There are other pieces from Japan. A large metal grater for root vegetables, like daikon and mountain yam; a sharkskin-lined wooden paddle for grating wasabi; a fire truck red hand-held Gangy No. 300 can opener Fukushima calls a badass brass knuckle.
A few items have very specific uses, like the faded red Matfer sugar pump with a dull copper tip, used back in his Minibar days to inflate small globes made of melted sugar, and the wooden Mexican molinillo he used at Oyamel to make hot chocolate.
“I probably stole it from there,” he admits of the latter. “Thanks, José!”
Nearby is a silver disc-shaped caramelizing iron, which is heated over a flame then delicately, quickly pressed into the sugar atop crème brûlée or crema catalana, creating the crackly caramelized crust.
“The sugar flames up and smokes up,” says Fukushima. “It’s a nice presentation.”
Of course there are several knives, plus a portable steel to keep them sharpened. Today’s array includes several of the chef’s longtime favorites: a Japanese utility knife, its handle wrapped in slender strips of bamboo; a folding chef’s knife; a classic Opinel No. 8 folding pocket knife.
There’s even one that has never seen action — “Because I don’t go out foraging,” Fukushima says — a gorgeous porcini mushroom knife featuring a small folding brush at one end, made in Italy by Legnoart.
Almost everything in the bag is hand-powered, but there are a couple of exceptions, including a classic white iPod from the 2000s still loaded with Fukushima’s OG playlist of old school hip-hop that was the soundtrack when the Daikaya ramen shop opened. Another is an electric Dremel rotary tool, traditionally used by crafters for etching, engraving, polishing and sanding. But in Fukushima’s hands, it is a method for gently perforating fragile foods.
Recently, he used it to create a hole in the bottom of a hollow puff of Indian poori bread. He dipped the delicate dome into black powder made with dried uni and charcoal to mimic a sea urchin shell, then filled the poori with uni. This is definitely not an application covered in the Dremel’s instruction manual.
So, what is Fukushima going to add to this unorthodox collection next? Given its scope, it’s hard to believe he needs anything else.
“You can never have enough knives, spoons or notebooks,” he hedges. “And I want a gentleman’s pen. I don’t know how many times I’ve been at the airport and needed to fill out some paperwork, but I’ve been without a pen. I want to be like James Bond and pull out a nice pen.”
Follow Katsuya Fukushima on Instagram @katsuya_fukushima to learn more.
Bantam King: 501 G St. NW, DC; bantamking.com // @bantamkingdc
Daikaya: 705 6th St. NW, DC; daikaya.com // @daikaya_ramen
Haikan: 805 V St. NW, DC; haikandc.com // @haikandc
Hatoba: 300 Tingey St. #170, SE, DC; hatobadc.com // @hatobadc
Tonari: 707 6th St. NW, DC; tonaridc.com // @tonaridc
Nevin Martell is a D.C.-area based food and travel writer, parenting essayist, recipe developer, and photographer who has been published by The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Saveur, Men’s Journal, National Geographic, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, Michelin Guide, Plate, DCist, Washington City Paper, and many other publications. He is the author of eight books, including Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, The Founding Farmers Cookbook: 100 Recipes for True Food & Drink, It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, the travelogue-memoir Freak Show Without a Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. He has appeared on The Frommer’s Travel Show, The Kojo Nnamdi Show, the Chatter on Books podcast, and elsewhere. Additionally, he is the co-founder of the highly successful New Kitchens On The Block event series and the internationally acclaimed Pay It Furloughed initiative. Last, but definitely not least, he is a proud poppa and husband. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @nevinmartell.
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