Newsday–Emi Endo, photo Randee Daddona


Traditional Japanese chef Minoru Suzuki returned from Yokohama to start a job at Luce & Hawkins on the North Fork hours before the earthquake and tsunami hit his native region of northeastern Japan.
Unable to contact or find any information out about his elderly mother in Akita and his aunt in Iwate — both hard-hit areas — he is trying to keep his hands busy and his mind off the worst.
Wanting to help despite being so far away, “What I can do is cook,” Suzuki, 56, said in Japanese. He was busy Tuesday preparing a special bento lunch featuring local duck and flounder based on the flavors and his childhood memories of the northeastern Tohoku region.

Luce & Hawkins, the restaurant at Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, will offer the $32-special Wednesday through Sunday. It’s called the “Ganbare Nippon,” or “Hang in there, Japan” bento lunch. All proceeds will be donated to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund through the Japan Society in Manhattan.
Suzuki’s eyes lit up as he described a vegetable “farm-style” sushi dish. “My mother always made this for me when I was a child,” he said. The rural landscape in Jamesport reminded Suzuki of his hometown of Akita, he said.
Award-winning restaurant chef-owner Keith Luce, who has been sous chef at the Clinton White House and a guest judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” said he brought Suzuki on board to introduce more elements of traditional Japanese cuisine into Luce & Hawkins’ repertoire.
“He’s a really caring, feeling person and it came across in his food when I ate it,” Luce said of Suzuki, who previously worked at Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck and several high-end restaurants in the New York area as well as in Japan.
Suzuki was originally scheduled to leave Japan on Friday — the day the massive earthquake struck.
But Rick Takemoto, the restaurant’s vice president for international marketing, said when Suzuki mentioned he could take a flight departing Thursday instead, he told Suzuki, ” ‘Take that one.’ Because he got on that one, he’s here now,” Takemoto said.
Luce said that after Suzuki arrived and saw the news, “He was beside himself. He kept bursting into tears.”
Since arriving, Suzuki said he hasn’t been able to sleep or stop thinking about his country. Friends have been seeking information about his family from within Japan, and Suzuki has been online, scanning lists of survivors and the known deceased, Takemoto said.
Luce said Tuesday, “Now that he’s out hitting some of the Japanese markets today, doing something, that makes him feel better. This is what he can do — he can communicate his feelings through cooking.”

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