Secrets of Japanese cookery revealed in Phaidon’s latest graphic tome

Secrets of Japanese cookery revealed in Phaidon’s latest graphic tome

Matt Abergel has always loved chicken. The Vancouverite skateboarder-turned ‘anti-cool’ co-founder of Yardbird (Hong Kong’s hottest chicken joint) has an almost spiritual connection with the humble bird, stemming from his early years. ‘Roasted Cornish hens by my Bubby (Yiddish for grandmother), braised by my Safta (Hebrew for grandmother), fried at the St Louis Hotel, rotisseried at Swiss Chalet, in nugget form by you-know-who,’ he’s a chef obsessed. A new cookbook published by Phaidon documents Abergel’s rise to cross-continental finger-lickin’ fame, and treats us to behind-the-scenes workings, recipes and charcoal cookery tricks.

The tome is a sensory joy. Complete with functional, graphic depictions of butchery, alongside elegant food photography of Yardbird’s modern classics, and notes from the ‘under-designed’ restaurant interiors, we discover hidden depths to the Yakitori cookery technique Abergel specialises in.

Chicken and Charcoal, by Matt Abergel, published by Phaidon

Skewering, from Chicken and Charcoal, published by Phaidon

Synonymous with skewered chicken, Yakitori is a surprisingly delicate Japanese barbeque style that allows the chef much more precision that other popular methods. And Abergel is a stickler for detail, even down to the bespoke, square bamboo skewers known as kaku kushi, chosen for their stability on the grill. They lance locally sourced, triple-yellow chicken ventricles, gizzards, hearts and livers, seasoned with salted olive oil and garlic sake, then dunked in sesame, miso and pine nut sauce, mired with umami. Seared Yellowtail salad refreshes with zingy yuzu skin, while fluffy milk bread soaks up multiple Yoichi Highballs.

The equally flavourful graphic identity is the work of longtime Yardbird collaborator (and fellow skateboard enthusiast) Evan Hecox. His understated, tattoo-like sketches and diagrams are imbued with youth-cultural motifs, and his collages of Hong Kong help to make Chicken and Charcoal more than just a recipe book, but a snapshot of a culinary moment, that defies cultures, backgrounds and tastes. We challenge you not to be delighted.

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