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Kokubo Aims to Please with Local Fare

Chef uses local ingredients to create menu at Kitchen on Common.

This is the third in a series profiling local chefs and sharing their favorite summer recipes. 

Chef Joh Kokubo, a Lexington native, isn't the only thing local at Kitchen on Common in Cushing Square.

Kokubo, who opened the fine dining eatery, his first, in September 2007, uses local ingredients whenever possible to make dishes, such as his Chile braised pork shoulder with white beans and slow-cooked collard greens.

"A lot of the produce I'm getting has been in the ground two hours before I pick it up," said the 35-year-old culinary artist, "so you're eating it at its peak, when it's really fresh."

Once a week, nearby Waltham Fields Community Farms sends Kokubo a list of its upcoming produce. The chef, trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, then goes to work, creating new dishes and sides for his ever evolving menu.

"It's fun to take what's available from the local farms and come up with new and interesting ideas," he said. "That creative process is what drew me to cooking."

As a young boy, Kokubo used to watch his father cook traditional Japanese dishes in the family's Lexington home. Then, after attending music school in New York City for the French horn, he began working at a friend's restaurant in Boston. Since, he has been the executive chef at the Wellesley College Club, sous chef for Crimson Catering at Harvard University and worked at a variety of restaurants and hotels in Boston and New York City.

He always dreamed of opening his own restaurant and wants Kitchen on Common to be a neighborhood establishment where regulars feel comfortable.

"We try and keep it pretty simple," Kokubo said of his home-style cooking.

Roasted Beet Salad with Candied Walnuts (serves four)

Ingredients:

1 pound of beets

4 ounces of walnut halves

1 tablespoon of honey

1 tablespoon of maple syrup

pinch of garam masala, curry powder or other spice mix

1 tablespoon of olive oil for cooking

salt and pepper

Method:

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wash beets well and pat dry. Toss beets with oil, salt and pepper. Fill a roasting pan with a shallow layer of kosher salt, enough to raise the beets off the bottom of the pan, and cover tightly. Roast the beets for one to 1.5 hours, depending on size, until they can be easily pierced with the blade of a small knife. When cool enough to handle, peel, dice and set aside.
  • Toss the walnuts with the honey, maple syrup, spice mix and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a sheet of parchment or silicone baking mat. Bake about 10 to 12 minutes, until the honey and syrup mixture is bubbling. Let cool, breaking apart with a spatula from time to time to prevent sticking.
  • Dress the beets lightly with vinaigrette and garnish with the walnuts. Serve with greens or goat cheese if desired.

Kitchen on Common is located at 442 Common St. and is open Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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