FIRST BREAKTHROUGH on this idea was with salt. It’s the most basic ingredient, but it can also be hellishly complex. A chef can go crazy figuring out how much salt to add to a dish. But I believe there is an objectively correct amount of salt, and it is rooted in a counterintuitive idea. Normally we think of a balanced dish as being neither too salty nor undersalted. I think that’s wrong. When a dish is perfectly seasoned, it will taste simultaneously like it has too much salt and too little salt. It is fully committed to being both at the same time.
Most people won’t ever notice this sensation; they’ll just appreciate that the food tastes good. But under the surface, the saltiness paradox has a very powerful effect, because it makes you very aware of what you’re eating and your own reaction to it. It nags at you, and it keeps you in the moment, thinking about what you’re tasting. And that’s what makes it delicious.
Miso is made by fermenting soybeans, but I wanted to see what happens when you ferment nuts, seeds, and other legumes. It turns out you can get some really delicious flavors. I particularly loved the flavor I was able to get from fermenting chickpeas. I called the result a chickpea hozon, a word I invented because it wasn’t technically miso.
When you eat something amazing, you don’t just respond to the dish in front of you; you are almost always transported back to another moment in your life. It’s like that scene in Ratatouille when the critic eats a fancy version of the titular dish and gets whisked back to the elemental version of his childhood.
I had this experience not long ago when I ate a fisherman’s stew at Bar Tartine in San Francisco. I was expecting it to taste like cioppino, the classic tomato-based Bay Area delicacy (which I personally hate). But it turned out to be so much better.
Europeans like sauerkraut—but kimchi is this weird foreign entity. They’re both salty, rotten cabbage! It shows you just how shallow human nature is, for someone to say, oh I’ll eat this but I’d never eat that. That’s the dumbest thing in the world.