Takashi almost bit it on a fry.
That is: Celebrated chef Takashi Yagihashi nearly choked to death on a cold French fry. It was late, he'd just gotten home from work -- his restaurant, Takashi, on Damen -- and he was hungry.
Yagihashi peeked in the fridge and saw some leftovers in a bag. Fast food from his kids, he knew. Just before popping the fries in the microwave, he popped one cold fry in his mouth. It got stuck somewhere along its downward route. Before the chef realized it, he couldn't breathe. He flailed around in the kitchen, the noise prompting his wife to come downstairs and quickly administer the Heimlich maneuver.
Yagihashi told this story to me and Sun-Times photographer John Kim last week, while showing us how to make ozoni, the Japanese soup with mochi for today's section. It's traditionally eaten at New Year's. People, usually elderly folks, die every year in Japan choking on mochi, he told us. Naturally, choking was on his mind.
I always learn something -- make that, plural things -- from the chefs who graciously agree to contribute to our biweekly column, At the Chef's Table. Something else we discovered on our Takashi shoot: the Japanese are most familiar with square mochi (pictured), while Koreans (according to John) eat theirs sliced into rounds, while Filipinos (me) are accustomed to little balls.
Once, when I was about 6, my mom made a sweet version of ginataan, a coconut milk soup, with ball-shaped mochi. My friend and next-door neighbor Helen, also about 6, came over and ate with us. Little Helen loved the soup; she took in mouthfuls far too big for her body until, whumpf... one of the mochi balls got stuck in her throat. My sisters remember that moment; I must have been too focused on my own bowl to notice (this is just how the story has been told to me all these years). To me, those chewy mochi were -- are -- the best part about ginataan.
Oh and in case you're wondering, Helen's just fine.