For Spago’s Chef de Cuisine, a Culinary Dream Comes Full Circle

Before Tetsu Yahagi entered the culinary world, he didn’t know what to do with his future. Serendipitously, while in a bookstore one day on a family vacation, he stumbled upon Wolfgang Puck’s “Adventures in the Kitchen.”

“My dream, before I left the United States to go back to Japan, was to dine at one of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants,” he said. “So, I asked my father if we could all dine at Spago. He made a reservation, and that’s where I first met Wolfgang. He signed the book that I bought.”

Now, Yahagi is the chef de cuisine at Spago Beverly Hills, working under Chef Lee Hefter, who Yahagi says is a great mentor.

“He has the background of French and Italian cuisine, and at the same time, he has a great understanding and respect for Asian cultures, which corresponds a lot with where I’m from and what I do and my cooking style,” said Yahagi.

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The Menu

The dinner menu at Spago changes daily, and is determined by availability and seasonality. 

“We try to come up with a new dish, new technique every day,” said Yahagi. 

But there are some tried-and-true dishes that stay on the menu as a backbone, like the smoked salmon pizza, which the chef shows us how to make in this episode of “Table 42.”

In the Kitchen: Smoked Salmon Pizza

To make this dish, a lot of prep work is involved with the dough, which is slowly fermented. This makes the sourdough flavor really come through. 

First, rub the dough with olive oil, sprinkle on some red onions, and throw the pizza in a wood-burning oven. Next, it’s time for the smoked salmon. 

“It’s important that we slice the salmon really thin,” said Yahagi. 

While the crust on the pizza dough is still hot, spread dill cream on top of it, and then top with the salmon. Then, add chives (for color), caviar (for flavor), and salmon pearls.

The contrast between hot and cold, said Yahagi, makes the dish unique.

“We have always created something new, and we still are trying to come up with new ideas, new techniques, new dishes,” Yahagi said. “We don’t want to turn ourselves into a museum. This restaurant needs to be evolving every day, and it needs to be kept always relevant in the industry.”