Like many parents, Kazuya Matsuoka has a hard time getting his kids to eat their veggies. His sons—who are two and five years old—will sometimes eat vegetables if they’re hidden in Japanese stews or blended with fruit juice into smoothies, but the 36-year-old chef is constantly trying to come up with ways to get his family to consume more vegetables—especially raw ones.
The corporate executive chef for Aburi Restaurants Canada, which owns Minami in Yaletown and Miku (soon to reopen at a new location in Coal Harbour), was born in Miura, a small fishing village a couple of hours outside Tokyo. While he ate a lot of fresh seafood as a child, Matsuoka admits that he was a picky eater too, especially when it came to eating raw tomatoes.
“My mom would always make me watermelon juice in the summertime. She scooped out all of the watermelon from the rind and blended it up,” Matsuoka tells the Georgia Straight while seated in the lounge at Minami. “I found it very delicious, and I didn’t know there was tomato in it until she told me years later.”
When Matsuoka was 18, he got his first cooking job at a well-known French restaurant, and like many young chefs starting out in the business, he was soon juggling a second job—at an Italian restaurant. In his early 20s, he took his European-based culinary skills to Los Angeles and ended up living in California for a decade.
“I was expecting to stay only two or three years, but after I got there, it was very enjoyable,” Matsuoka says. “I learned macrobiotic cuisine. It’s very popular in California.…They don’t use any white sugar, dairy, meat, or butter. They stay with all-natural [ingredients]—so like maple syrup, lots of vegetables, whole grains.”
While living in Los Angeles, Matsuoka visited different farmers markets each weekend. This helped him develop a better understanding of the seasonality of produce and connect with farmers. Since relocating to Vancouver a year and a half ago to help open Minami, Matsuoka continues to visit local farmers markets.
“A few weeks ago, when I went to the farmers market, I saw that heirloom tomatoes are coming up in season, and that reminded me of the watermelon juice I had as a kid,” Matsuoka says. “If you want to eat tomatoes in summertime, it’s better to eat [them] raw. It helps your body cool down.…All food has seasons. It’s better to eat in season because they’re there for a reason.”
To get his sons to eat more raw vegetables, Matsuoka has taken a cue from his mom and blends tomatoes and red pepper with watermelon, creating a bright and inviting gazpacho. To make the cool, summertime soup even more flavourful, he drizzles cabernet vinegar and a hint of Tabasco sauce to give it some kick. For adult servings, he adds mojito watermelon balls; he suggests pairing the soup with a glass of sparkling sake.
Now, who says eating your vegetables can’t be fun?
Kazuya Matsuoka's heirloom tomato and watermelon gazpacho
1 lb (455 g) ripe heirloom tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
1¼ lb (565 g) seedless watermelon
4 Tbsp (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cabernet vinegar(or sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar)
4 asparagus stalks
edible leaves and flowers for garnish (such as shiso leaves, baby kale tips, and mizuna flowers)
Shiso-yuzu mojito mix (optional—see below)
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanche whole tomatoes for 20 seconds, then plunge into an ice-water bath for a few minutes to stop cooking. Remove stems and skins, and cut into quarters.
2. Roughly chop red bell pepper into small pieces.
3. Cut watermelon into quarters. Using a melon-ball scooper, scoop out approximately 20 watermelon balls and set aside for use in shiso-yuzu mojito mix. Chop remaining watermelon flesh into small pieces. Discard rind.
4. In a large bowl, toss tomato, red pepper, and watermelon pieces with olive oil and salt. Transfer the mixture to a blender; blend until smooth. Add Tabasco sauce and cabernet vinegar, and mix.
5. Chill mixture for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
6. To serve, cut avocado into thick wedges, remove woody ends from asparagus and cut stalks into thirds, slice cucumber, and divide between four shallow bowls. Add soup. Garnish with edible leaves and flowers. Optional: Place 4 to 5 mojito-soaked watermelon balls in each bowl and drizzle shiso-yuzu mojito mix over top.
Shiso-yuzu mojito mix
20 watermelon balls
2 Tbsp (30 mL) white rum
5 shiso leaves (available at Japanese markets), thinly sliced
¼ cup (50 mL) simple syrup (can be made using a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water, simmered)
2 Tbsp (30 mL) yuzu juice (available at Japanese markets)
2 Tbsp (30 mL) lime juice
2 Tbsp (30 mL) water
1. Place all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and carefully stir together, making sure to keep watermelon balls intact.
2. Chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours before using.
Yield: four servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.