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Angie Wieck, Published July 28 2013

It's my job: Hibachi chef masters preparation and performance

FARGO – Many people come to Kobe’s Japanese Cuisine & Steak House expecting dinner and a show.

Komang Wirawan, or Paul as he’s known at Kobe’s, delivers both from his station behind the hibachi grill.

He knows all of the standard tricks: juggling utensils, flipping an egg into his hat, and the always popular onion volcano.

Rather than the fanfare of the performance, however, it is preparing the meal that Wirawan takes the most pride in. He preps all of the meat, vegetables and sauces himself. He has mastered the timing of courses so that regardless of individual orders, everyone at the table will dine at once.

What brings the dinner and the show together is Wirawan’s personality. He is a guy who has fun at his job, and that joy rubs off on customers.

Q. Where are you from?

Indonesia. I lived in Bali.

When did you come to America?

In 2006. I first came to South Dakota.

Why South Dakota?

I went to hotel school in Indonesia. I checked on the Internet and got an agency. I knew about a KOA Campground in Rapid City where my friend worked.

Did you do hibachi grilling when you came to America?

I was working in a hotel. After working (in housekeeping) there, I was thinking it would be better (to) work in (a) restaurant. I learned hibachi so no more housekeeping.

Is hibachi common in Indonesia?

No. It is from Japan.

So, this work is no tie to home for you?

No.

Where did you learn the trade?

I learned in Atlanta. I paid to learn at a restaurant. When I started learning, I learned from prep cooks. After that, from sous chef for maybe one month. Then, I started cooking for employees. Then customers, starting with two people, four, six, eight and 10 people.

How long does training take?

Almost three to four months.

Do you know of any women hibachi chefs?

I saw one woman on YouTube. I believe she was from Japan. I have only seen two Americans do this.

Do you get tips?

Sometimes customers will give me a side tip. Sometimes customers just give tips to the server and they share with me.

Do you like the cooking or the performance more?

Cooking. Performing is the smaller part. I’m mainly cooking with a few tricks.

What are some of your tricks?

I always ask a customer if it’s their first time (at Kobe’s). If it is, I trick them with Saki. I squirt it at them, but the bottle is empty. Next time he comes, he knows.

It is not always an empty bottle though, right?

No. People over 21 get Saki. Under 21, they get “baby Saki.” I give them Mountain Dew or water.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501