When you think of hearty, Southern American cuisine, you’re probably not thinking “light and healthy” – but that’s exactly what Suki Otsuki has been able to achieve as executive chef at Mudhen Meat and Greens.
“Food can really do so much for your health, but if you’re not eating the way you should, it can so negatively affect you.”
Born and raised in Texas, Otsuki’s path to the culinary world started off quite by accident.
“It started as a hobby. I got really into cake decorating, and I started working in a little bakery in Austin. I never realised I could make a career out of it at the time, honestly. It was just something I did for fun.”
“A couple of the girls I worked with were going to culinary school, and I thought, ‘Oh, this could be something for me’.”
“Once I got into it, I fell in love with it.”
Otsuki’s focus is on putting a healthy spin on Southern food, finding her inspiration through local ingredients and making them the star of her dishes.
“It’s difficult in Texas. We don’t really have seasons – it’s hot or hotter. But I definitely work hard to try and develop relationships with farmers and growers to find the best fresh and local produce.”
“The number one dish I get feedback on is a Mushroom Bolognese Pasta. It sounds really simple, but it’s a vegan Bolognese. The base is made of quinoa, and I use mushrooms to give it that heartiness. Then I use kelp noodles, because they have a really different texture – and I top it all off with macadamia nuts and ricotta.”
“I really wanted to make this hearty dish that felt really traditional. We have vegans come in who look at it and go, ‘Are you sure there’s no meat in it?’ But then we have carnivores who throw meatloaf on top of it, and they’re just as pleased.”
It’s an incredibly inventive dish – and with the food industry what it is now thanks to the plethora of cooking shows on television, and a new generation of consumers who are eating with their eyes through social media, Otsuki is determined to keep the creativity flowing.
“Eating and cooking is something that everybody does. It’s not a trade that’s secretive.”
“But twenty years ago, the culinary industry wasn’t what it is today. It was a bunch of ex-cons or Navy vets that didn’t really have anything else they could do.”
“Now, we’re acknowledged for our hard work and what we do. But there is that other aspect, where many people go, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that on the Food Network’, or ‘I can make that at home’… and it really forces you to stay creative.”
Otsuki is now turning to her heritage for inspiration.
“My dad is second generation American Japanese. My grandpa is Japanese.”
“I’ve never travelled to Japan, but it’s something I’d love to do. I love putting a healthy spin on Southern food, and having a passion for Japanese culture helps you find ways to keep things light and clean.”
“I wasn’t raised that way; but when you know better, you do better. And it’s definitely become second nature to me.”
Find out more about Mudhen Meat and Greens here.