Chef Q&A: Keiichi Kurobe of Blackship
Entering Blackship – one of West Hollywood’s coolest new restaurants – you can feel the pulsing kinetic energy. The busy bar hums, people coming and going create a gentle hustle and bustle, there’s a free-form rhythm as staff swish by, attending to diners.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that chef Keiichi Kurobe, 33, once toyed with the idea of being a hip-hop artist in Japan. Luckily for Los Angeles, he decided to cook for a living and late last year opened his first solo venture – an innovative mix of Japanese and Italian cuisine. Prior to this, Kurobe was the executive sous chef at Hinoki & the Bird in Century City.
At Blackship (the name is a reference to U.S. ships sent to Japan in the 1850s to promote trade), housemade pastas are a specialty and you can share just about everything. The local albacore namerou (similar to tartare) is a blissful combination of texture and taste. Manila clam tonjiru warms you right up and carbonara ramen will delight you. The local swordfish and Kurobuta pork chop roast are standout entrées and of course there are specials, such as Porterhouse steak.
The T.K.G. arancini (one of the most popular items) is a whimsical take on classic comfort food and arrives in a nest with its own little squeeze bottle of soy sauce. Oh, and if your love for the richly savory but delicate shungiku gnocchi (Brussels sprouts, brown butter dashi, pecorino) – borders on addiction, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Desserts include genmaicha tiramisu and a sweet-saké riff on budino.
We recently sat down with Kurobe to learn more about his one-of-a-kind kitchen.
What made you want to combine Italian and Japanese?
While both cuisines are very different, they have flavor notes that complement each other. Japanese is very subtle, you don’t have a lot of spicy or high-acid stuff. Italian food complements that lack of boldness. Both cultures use a lot of grains in their cooking – rice, noodles – and they both have a lot of seafood in their cooking.
How do you decide what makes the menu?
My main goal is to make sure I’m creating new things with the seasons, progressing in a sense, to keep things interesting for the clientele. It also has to make sense though for me and the customer. I think that’s where you can lose people – when it doesn’t make sense. You lose the translation. A lot of my dishes are based around a flavor I know and I play with that, putting a twist on how it’s prepared. That way, it’s a lot more approachable for the diner.
You’ve been in Los Angeles about 3 ½ years. How do you like it?
LA has the best ethnic food of all the cities I’ve lived in. West Hollywood is a very exciting place and a lot of restaurants have been successful here. I’m still kind of learning about the neighborhood. The energy is totally different from Century City. So far the people have been very kind and supportive.
What got you interested in cooking?
I come from a big family. Family plays a big role in my cooking. I was born and raised in New York but also lived in Japan. There are a lot of Italian restaurants in Japan and I grew up eating Italian foods. In New York, my mom would host dinners, potluck style, and my mom took us out a lot to eat at different restaurants.
I wanted to be a cook since I was a young kid. I always helped my mom and my grandmas in the kitchen. It was calming in a sense, it was kind of my niche. I was this kid who didn’t like school. I was expelled twice. My mom pushed me to try something new. I was very lucky to have someone who supported me.
After working in Japan as a dishwasher at a French restaurant, I fell in love with the energy of the restaurant business. I worked my way up slowly and it’s a life-long dream that has finally come true.
Does your mom like to cook?
Yes. When I go back [to visit], I refuse to cook. The reason is my mom will critique it over my shoulder. It doesn’t matter that I have a restaurant. She still tells me, ‘This is my kitchen, you go by my rules!’ She’ll always have something to say.