For my 10th birthday my mom would let me take three friends to any restaurant in town. Being double digits meant I was practically grown up, and weighty decisions like dinner reservations could be firmly set on my freckled, knobby shoulders. I immediately blurted out, “Benihana!” To me, this place was magic. The knife skills, the shrimp jumping into the chef’s pocket, the onion volcano, the beating heart of fried rice – the fried rice full stop. It was everything I could have wanted for a 10th birthday party.

So here I am, twenty years later, and Benihana reached out to me about their new offering – an experience with one of their chefs to learn the signature Benihana techniques followed by a dinner of the Splash n’ Meadow for four to seven guests. It’s called “Be the Chef” and was so much fun. I can’t exactly say that I can flip a shrimp tail onto my head, but I’m getting there.

Some things I learned:

– It takes a lot of training to get the Benihana level knife skills needed to work the Teppanyaki Grill.

– Benihana makes its signature sauces, ginger and mustard, in house, by hand fresh each day.

– It’s easier to flip a shrimp into your pocket than your hat.

– The key to the fried rice is the garlic butter – which is made by hand every day. Just fresh garlic, butter, and soy sauce.

– The teppanyaki is about 500°F, so you have to really know what you’re doing to stay safe.

– The Chefs sharpen their knives before every meal. A sharp knife is a fast and safe knife.

The main takeaway for me is that to prepare something simply, you have to use quality ingredients. Searing and quickly cooking ingredients on a 500°F grill means the texture has to already be tender, the flavors already deep and rich. It also means you need to have every element prepared and ready to go. Timing is everything. When you break down the recipes, one striking thing is the simplicity. A touch of lemon, the garlic butter, salt, that’s generally all that is used for adornment. There’s no heaviness or cloyingness to the flavors. You can take this same concept into your own kitchen too. Buy quality ingredients, use high heat to get a beautiful sear, and season judiciously.