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What are some new items?

Tuna steak is now on the permanent menu. So is mango salsa salmon, and avocado tartar salmon steak. That’s a regular grilled salmon steak with asparagus and shiitake mushrooms on the side and a little sautéed udon noodle, and our own original avocado tartar sauce made with mayonnaise, avocado, onion, etc. It’s a very popular item now.

We have also changed our vegetables. We used to cook them in parchment paper, but now we use dim-sum-style steamers. We bake some of them and boil some and grill some, and then put them all in the double-decker steamer and steam them in front of the guests. Then we dish them onto their plates very nicely and finish with balsamic vinegar spray on top.

What are your most popular dishes?

The original Rocky’s Choice [New York strip loin and chicken breast] is still one of the most popular. And also Benihana Delight, which is a chicken and shrimp combination.

Now, as you know, noodles are getting very popular, especially ramen noodles.

And that’s your background.

Yes, that’s my background, so we have already come up with two types of ramen noodles. I’m just waiting for my boss to say, ‘OK, go.’

Would you offer the ramen as an appetizer, or would you serve it according to Japanese style at the end of the meal?

If they [customers] want to order it at the table with the group, they can, but we want to do it in the lounge area for early dinner or late night.

Right now a popular item in the lounge is Seafood Diablo. It’s seafood with all kinds of vegetables grilled in our special Diablo sauce and served with udon noodles.

What’s in the Diablo sauce?

We have a Benihana sauce made with ichimi togarashi, beef bouillon, honey, etc. For the Diablo, we mix mayonnaise with that hot sauce. That’s very popular now, and so are our sushi items and our Chili Shrimp Roll.

What else are you working on?

A couple months ago in Miami the other regional chefs and I tried lamb chops. I came up with a lamb chop coated in panko breadcrumbs and finished with orange sauce. Then, after we slice it and dish it up on the plate, we pour a sauce of balsamic reduction. When I made it for the restaurant they all liked it. We want to come up with some pork dishes, but for the sushi kitchen, not for the grill.

Why not for the grill?

There are a lot of cultures who don’t want the pork in the same place as the other food, so we don’t want to do anything with pork on the grill. It’s going to be a special lounge item that will come from the back of house.

What pork dishes do you have in mind?

Ginger pork Benihana style, Benihana-style curries — Japanese traditional stuff with a touch of Benihana fusion.

How long does it take between the time you and your regional chefs come up with an item and when it is tested as a monthly special?

Sometimes the CEO goes with it immediately and sometimes it takes a few months. Then we have to put together a storyboard to send to each restaurant showing step by step how to make it. That takes a week or two with our training group in the Miami office. Then, once those directions are done, we ship them out about two weeks before launching it so they have time to train.

So from when they say, ‘Let’s go,’ to when we actually do it in front of the guests is about a month. I have to think about how our more than 1,000 chefs can do it exactly the same. If it’s too difficult then we’re not going to succeed with it. So I have to come up with easy steps so that every chef can do it exactly the same. That’s the difficult part.

This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: Jan. 17, 2014 This story has been updated with the correct number of Benihana locations and the types of chefs working under chef Nemoto.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary