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15 May 2006 @ 10:56 am
Is Extreme Chef Kaz Yamamoto for Real? [Answer: No -- See Comments]  
Stephen Lemons, who has written for Salon and the New York Times among other venues, has recently published a tell-all piece on Kaz Yamamoto, an extreme cuisine chef who's something of an old friend from the days before either were as successful as they are now. The article appears as a national feature in the Phoenix New Times May 11, 2006 issue.

Kaz, as Lemons refers to him, is Japanese, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris infamous for killing a customer with an overdose of blowfish liver in an Osaka restaurant. Lemons claims the poisoning was purposeful (Kaz allegedly included too much liver in the dish just to frighten the customer since he, Nobu Sato, was an obnoxious man who sexually harrassed a waitress). But, once acquitted, Kaz escaped scorn in Japan by moving to Hollywood, where he used in order to ease his pain of failure.

Then, a brilliant idea struck him: to cater exotic meat tastings and later, once these succeeded, to cater exclusive Hollywood parties with the same theme. These rare and extreme eats appealed, Lemons speculates, because they had inherent social cache in their exclusivity and because the palates of the rich are jaded with the ordinary. At first, according to Lemons, Kaz's fare included hard to get but legal meats (hippo, reindeer, lion, kangaroo, zebra).

At some later point, he began to work the black market and even go hunting himself for the illegal and endangered. This now is his regular fare, but not in Hollywood. He has moved on to Phoenix, Arizona, where his nomadic, underground restaurant, Le Menu, supposedly springs up and draws a word-of-mouth crowd, like some decadent, ghastly movable feast that's always one step ahead of the law.

If Lemons is to be believed, then Yamamoto is a monster, one endeared to some of the leading lights of the Hollywood, American, and international social elite. I would not call him a monster for serving meat that is illegal to kill (dolphin, whale) or import, although I want this to be stopped and charges brought. Nor is he a monster for serving meats we find extraordinary distasteful in our mainstream culture (such as dog -- bichon frise, to be precise, or the average penguin), or for serving them in unusual and inhumane ways (the downing of live eels or the ingestion of a cobra's still beating heart). I accept arguments that cultural relativism can be taken this far, however barbaric the act may seem in our culture. I do think we need to tow the line on animal cruelty, but I am less generous on where I set it given the food use of animals and their relative level of cognitive development.

Yamamoto approaches monstrousness, however, if he has killed and served endangered species (gorilla, Gila monster) and poached zoos and national parks. This flies in the face of conservationism, and the public good which conservationism seeks to serve. To quote Lemons' article on this point:

"'The Phoenix zoo have lot of monkey,' shrugs Yamamoto. 'Sometime they lose one. Maybe they think it escape. Maybe they should pay their employee better. For guard on night shift, $500 is lot of money. Same for sea lion at SeaWorld. If sea lion not perform in show, sea lion go bye-bye.'

If the employees he's bribed at SeaWorld can't come through for him on the sea lion tip, Yamamoto always has the fallback of driving up to San Francisco's Pier 39 with a refrigerated truck, waiting until the wee hours of morning with two assistants, and plugging a sea lion in the skull using a night-vision laser-scope, and a silencer on his high-powered rifle. The sea lions are wild, and come and go as they please from the docks."

Yamamoto is a monster if he has paid poor Mexicans for their organs or leg muscles to serve his customers or plundered the bodies of the freshly dead in funeral homes (no grieving person should be denied the dignified disposal of their loved one's body). Again, to quote Lemons' article:

"Placenta pâté has long been a part of Yamamoto's repertoire, but it's not the only human flesh he's willing to prepare for customers eager to experiment with cannibalism.

'There many Mexcan immigrant need money,' confides Yamamoto during my inspection of his Anthem residence. 'Sometime they sell me kidney, arm or leg, or just slice of liver. Very, very expenseeve. These Mexcan never have to work for year, I tell you. And Mexcan liver with onion? Is sooo deleeshus. You must try.'

How could I resist? Actually, at another of his clandestine spreads, Yamamoto presented me with three plates, one with a slice of human liver sautéed with onions, another with a hunk of muscle torn from a human leg that had been deep fried, and a third of a side of poached hufu, a faux human flesh product that bills itself as the "Healthy Human Flesh Alternative"...

'I give the hufu to people who don't wanna eat Mexcan," claims Yamamoto. "Hufu not bad, but nothing like real Mexcan.'"

And Yamamoto is a monster of the worst order if he has actually expressed hopes of buying a baby from an illegal Mexican woman, which he can roast whole (as he did the two cubs of a mother lion he also killecd) or of serving a whole roast Mexican man one day: "'One day I hope I can cook whole Mexcan,' sighs Yamamoto. 'Maybe baby Mexcan that mother sell to me.'" So Lemons claims. And as he claims it, I wonder how hard he would work to get a seat at that table.

This horrific speculation is not as unfair to the article's author as it might first seem. Lemons claims that he has himself tasted Mexican (Yamamoto refers to the human flesh he peddles as "Mexican," much as the rest of us refer to cow as "beef"):

"Yamamoto presented me with three plates, one with a slice of human liver sautéed with onions, another with a hunk of muscle torn from a human leg that had been deep fried, and a third of a side of poached hufu, a faux human flesh product that bills itself as the 'Healthy Human Flesh Alternative'...

I sample a bit of each, and I must admit that Yamamoto is correct. Mexican liver is exquisite, a thousand times tastier than its bovine counterpart. The leg muscle was a little chewy, sort of like gnawing on a fried chicken gizzard, but not bad." He does not like the hufu.

If Lemons has indeed witnessed such items in Yamamoto's larder without turning him in--he does not seem to hope the article will lead to Yamamoto's capture, although he believes it could contribute to it--and if he has also partaken of them, then he is guilty too of a serious crime, morally certainly, and hopefully legally as well. No civilized nation can allow such practices, practices that exploit the poor for their very flesh, which is pernicious no matter what the context, but especially so in the context of postcolonial industrial modernity.

I own I hope -- fervently -- to find in later days that this article is nothing more than a fiction, one informed by a certain Anthony Bourdain-like culinary machismo (Bourdain is a reported Le Menu customer). I either want to know that this is a hoax, or that it has not gone on or gone unpunished.

[Note: I have sent a copy of this entry to Terry Goddard, Attorney General of the State of Arizona, requesting an investigation. I also suggested an investigation to The Smoking Gun.]
kellysearsmithkellysearsmith on May 15th, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)
Follow-Up: Article Confirmed a Hoax or Joke, Take Your Pick
Reply from Arizona Attorney General's Office:

Dear Kelly:

Thank you for your letter. You're right that the Phoenix New Times article is outrageous, but it is also a hoax. The paper has a tradition of publishing fictitious stories like this one every year or so. After I saw the story, I called a friend who is a longtime reporter at the paper, and he confirmed the story was phony.

Another giveway: Near the end, the story says PETA was contacted for comment but had none. I'm familiar with PETA, and this never happens. I sent them a link to the story, and they sent a letter to New Times. I thought you might like to see it, so it's pasted below.


Steve M. Wilson
Director of Communications
Arizona Attorney General's Office

Dear Editor,

Regarding the article "Xtreme Cuisine" on chef Kaz Yamamoto (May 11), we at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) would like to thank the author for making it clearer than ever that eating flesh from any animal-human, endangered, domesticated companion, or otherwise-is morally backwards. Indeed, for the animals who are tortured and consumed by the billions each year in the U.S. alone, a dog is a pig is a giraffe is a tuna. From bichon frise to Bumblebee-bound fish, each of these beings have their own interests and lives-and their day planners don't include being butchered by anyone, especially not a fictional chef whose gustatory preferences align him closer to Jeffrey Dahmer than Wolfgang Puck.

Unfortunately for the author, Stephen Lemons, his journalistic practices are on a similar track as his character's menus-a lot more Jayson Blair than Edward R. Murrow. Although imaginative in his fabrications, Lemons made the mistake of fudging a very simple detail-his attempts to contact PETA. No member of the media, no matter how controversial or inconsequential the issue at hand, is ever ignored by our hardworking Communications Department.

Mr. Lemons, we invite you and "Mr. Yamamoto" to visit www.VegCooking.com, where you will find a smorgasbord of daring dishes featuring that most exotic of ingredients: tofu.
jamesgilmerjamesgilmer on May 16th, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Follow-Up: Article Confirmed a Hoax or Joke, Take Your Pick
Going a bit far for a joke, isn't it?

And this was the exact plot of an Angel episode.
kellysearsmithkellysearsmith on May 16th, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Follow-Up: Article Confirmed a Hoax or Joke, Take Your Pick
Yes -- in the main, just assinine. The world doesn't need one more excuse for an internet hoax or faux journalism.

However, if PETA's take is right, this piece would be fine satire and is, as stands, an engaging fiction. However, it couldn't be called the equal, in clarity of social critique, as Swift's "A Modest Proposal," even so.
(Anonymous) on May 28th, 2006 02:38 am (UTC)
Re: Follow-Up: Article Confirmed a Hoax or Joke, Take Your Pick
Thank you for posting that letter. Please get back to me with more proof that that article is either fake or real. tjkisthart@gmail.com
kellysearsmithkellysearsmith on May 28th, 2006 03:44 am (UTC)
Re: Follow-Up: Article Confirmed a Hoax or Joke, Take Your Pick
I take the Attorney General of the State of Arizona's word for it, plus the fact that this paper is known for hoax pieces with political spin, plus the many unlikely notes in the article itself which first caused me to doubt its veracity. You're welcome to do further investigation on your own. I'm not in the business, but I did find it of sufficient concern to ask the State of Arizona's legal counsel to investigate.
(Anonymous) on June 4th, 2006 03:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Follow-Up: Article Confirmed a Hoax or Joke, Take Your Pick
Yeah, and the movie _The Freshman_ as well.
J. M. F. Grantflemco on June 5th, 2006 04:22 am (UTC)
Re: Follow-Up: Article Confirmed a Hoax or Joke, Take Your Pick
Nice to see PETA is standing up for their beliefs. Any group that slaughters hundreds of innocent animals while bitching about my right to eat beef is OK in my book.

Bunch of hypocrites, just like me.