SANF March 2016 : Page 80

FEAST THE BUSINESS Seated on a lime-green couch in the West Oakland headquarters of Hodo Soy, Minh Tsai is contemplating tofu nuggets. “They’re an innovative gate-way,” he says of the wrinkly blobs of fried and braised tofu that are made one story below where he sits. “We want to have as many gateways as possible to get people to think about tofu as an ingredient.” Thus, the nugget is no mere nug-get: In Tsai’s eyes, it has the potential to be tofu’s version of the California roll. In the ’80s, Tsai explains, “the concept of eating raw fish was so for-eign. There was an interest in sushi, but if no one had innovated the Cali-fornia or tempura roll, I don’t think Americans would have taken to it.” It’s true that in most parts of the country, tofu is now as common as, well, sushi. But it lacks, shall we say, sex appeal: To most Americans, it’s still something of a vegetarian punch line. Lots of people eat it, but far fewer love eating it. And that, Tsai says, is why “tofu needs a champion.” And so, last September , the founder and chief executive officer of Hodo Soy staged the first Tofu Disruption: a one-day event targeting the people best suited, in Tsai’s opinion, to be tofu’s champions: chefs. It included a factory tour and a dinner for which the guest chefs demonstrated the innovative potential of soy. It was a very Tofu 2.0 evening. Brandon Jew, of the forthcoming Mr. Jiu, made “burrata” from nama yuba (young, creamy yuba, or tofu skin), pairing it with Thai basil and toma-toes; Spruce chef Johnny Madriaga served braised firm tofu with pork belly; Wayfare Tavern’s Omri Aflalo incorporated both smoked tofu gel and puréed silken tofu into a kampa-chi crudo; Kim Alter, of the soon-to-open Nightbird, employed okara, or soy pulp, to create a smoked porridge garnished with fried yuba, black cod, and beef jus; and for dessert, pastry chef Bill Corbett partnered vanilla-soy parsnip mousse and soy-milk jam The Wizard of Soy Minh Tsai is on a mission to make you think differently about tofu. By Rebecca Flint Marx 80 San Francisco | March 2016 with parsnip cake. The dinner was such a success for both chefs and din-ers that Tsai is staging a second Tofu Disruption in New York this April. “Minh wants to break the stereo-type that tofu is boring,” Alter says. “That’s why he likes working with chefs—they can bring ideas to the table that he wouldn’t think about.” PHOTOGRAPH BY Alanna Hale

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