Hibachi chefs serve up entertainment (video)
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 14, 2013 at 5:14 a.m.
DID YOU KNOW?
Hibachi is a North American term for Japanese teppanyaki cooking. Teppanyaki is Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food. The chef performs hibachi cooking in front of many diners with theatrical flair.
Hibachi chefs use fancy hand work with knives and spatulas, such as flipping food into their hat or lighting a volcano of onions on fire.
Hibachi grills originated in China.
The Japanese adopted hibachi braziers in the eighth century. Their original use was for warmth, not cooking.
As crowds gather around Tokyo Grill's hibachi, Terry Bi, of Dandong, China, prepares himself for a culinary show.
Grabbing a set of knives, spatulas and a rolling table of sauces, spices, vegetables and rice, Bi greets hungry customers with their orders of scallops, tuna, steak, shrimp and chicken.
With every twirl and toss of the spatula, Bi offers a bit of delicate comedy, waiting for laughter to erupt from the table.
"I like to make customers smile. It's fun, and it makes me happy," said Bi, 24, who is still learning English.
He tosses the cooked meat in his customers' open mouths, then forms a choo-choo train out of a stack of grilled onions.
It's all part of the chef gig, he said.
"I love hibachi. I want to own my own Japanese restaurant someday," he said.
Bi lives full time in Houston and works at the Victoria restaurant four or five days a week.
So do fellow hibachi master chefs Jackie Chen, 43, of China; and Ayi Chien, 43, of Taiwan.
Each of the chefs desired to move to the United States from their home countries years ago.
And now that they're settled in Texas, working as hibachi chefs in South Texas, they have no desire to live anywhere else.
"I want to be American citizen. I like America - everything here," Bi said with a Mandarin cadence. "The first time I came here, I thought I would like my home better. But Texas is good. The people, too, are good."
Chen agrees he doesn't want to return to China. The opportunity for a better life is in the U.S.
And there's something America offers that he can't get back home.
"There is freedom here. It means everything to me," Chen said.
But they still manage to return to their home countries to visit family and friends every few years.
"I'm settled here," said Chen, who has a wife and daughter in Houston. "Every other year, we go back, but I do not want to live anywhere else."
Each of the master chefs hopes to continue Japanese cooking for many years. And they're eager to meet more customers in Victoria.
"I like for us to be friends with the customers. I don't want them to come in and eat only but to enjoy the show and talk to me," Chien said. "They should come in and have fun and enjoy the show. This makes me happy."