Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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While not as well-known stateside as Middle Eastern kebabs, yakitori is a staple in Japan that’s gaining traction on U.S. menus. At KONO in New York’s Chinatown, guests are treated to a “yakitori progression” as part of Chef Atsushi “ATS” Kono’s multi-course tasting menu. Prepared behind a U-shaped chef’s counter, the skewers are grilled over Kishu binchotan. Sourced from Japanese oak in the forests of Kishu, this white charcoal is often praised as the best in the world due to its odorless and smokeless burn.

The chef also takes a zero-waste approach. From crown to feet, every part of the organic Amish chicken is used, which means several cuts, including some lesser-known specialty cuts, appear on the menu. One of Kono’s most iconic yakitori is the Tsukune, in which he combines ground chicken thighs, duck, minced scallions, raw egg yolk and a special housemade sauce. “I use chicken thigh and duck for a richer taste. The skewer is grilled and dipped into my housemade tare sauce, then grilled again—back and forth until it’s perfectly charred,” Kono says.

The tare sauce is a crucial ingredient in the Tsukune, which is why Kono ages his own version in-house. “Every yakitori chef has their own recipe for tare. Traditionally, it is made with soy sauce, rice sake, sugar and chicken fat. Young tare is too light; it can be too sweet or too salty. Mine has been aged for eight years and is more mild,” he explains.

While the skewer version remains a menu mainstay, Kono is also playing around with formats beyond yakitori. “My latest version of Tsukune is presented as a burger. I serve it on a little bun with tomato, greens, shaved truffle and a pickle on the side,” he says. “Our guests love it.”


About The Author


Nicole Duncan is the digital managing editor of Flavor & the Menu. She's reported on the restaurant industry for a decade, most recently as the editor of FSR magazine. In 2021, she won a Folio award for her feature on restaurant tycoon Tilman Ferttita. The following year, FSR was awarded Best Overall Issue for its May 2022 issue featuring Andrew Zimmern. She has profiled well-known chefs including Paola Velez, Fabio Viviani and Daniel Boulud, but also relishes the opportunity to spotlight under-the-radar trends and innovators.