The Robust Food of the Izakayas
Sylvan Brackett’s Peko-Peko Japanese Catering
Photos by Aya Brackett
In a tidy, raftered workshop behind his Oakland home, Sylvan Mishima Brackett works a special magic of the Japanese culinary sort. Brackett is the owner of Peko-Peko, a catering company specializing in Japanese izakaya food. Izakayas are like taverns serving items like yakitori, sashimi, hiyayakko, karaage, and other savory dishes that pair well with beer, sake, shochu, and cocktails.
Brackett was born in Kyoto, Japan, and grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, where his family lived in a drafty Japanese-style house with two wood stoves and a generator for electricity. Clearly it was a setting with considerable draw for the creative muses, as it produced not only Sylvan, with his artistic and culinary talents, but also his sister, Aya, a widely published photographer whose work is featured on this page.
Brackett caters large and small gatherings, everything from intimate events for Alice Waters and Chez Panisse to luncheons for the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, or a meal for a group of Japanese mothers doing crafts together. His menus might include California halibut with freshly grated wasabi; steamed Pacific spot prawns with ginger; Riverdog pork dumplings; dashimaki tamago, a folded Kaki Farm egg omelet with freshly shaved katsuobushi; Tomales Bay clams steamed with dashi, sake, and house-grown mitsuba; and perhaps some pickled cherry blossoms that he’s foraged. His Dinner Bell Farm tsukune with fresh yuzu peel are grilled over binchotan charcoal. Most meals are accompanied by rice cooked in an iron pot or over the kamado. Food is served on new or antique handmade dishware that Brackett collects on his visits to Japan.
Brackett’s artful bento meals may be the easiest and best introduction to his cooking. In a bamboo-husk box he carefully arranges rice, organic vegetables, hand-shaved katsuobushi, simply prepared seasonal fish or heritage-breed meats. Weekly choices might include Beef Curry Rice, Gyudon (beef and sweet onion), Pastured Chicken Karaage, or a seasonal vegetable mix.
What he doesn’t grow or make himself, Brackett likes to buy from local purveyors. “I get my fish from Monterey Fish. Their halibut, sardines, and other fish are amazingly good quality. Get to know your fishmonger and ask what’s local and fresh. I like Tokyo Fish Market for konbu and organic soy sauce. When I don’t make my own, I like San Jose tofu for its fresh taste.”
He gathers produce from farmers’ markets or directly from nearby specialty growers. “I’ve searched heaven and earth to find certain Japanese ingredients grown in California,” Brackett confides. Market days might find him shopping for daikon and other Japanese vegetables, like negi, ume plums, persimmons, bamboo shoots, or edamame, depending upon the season. Brackett has favorite farmers with whom he’s developed relationships. “Lots of the Western growers don’t know how to do edamame or daikon. It’s takes a certain know-how,” he says. “My bamboo shoots come from a bamboo enthusiast’s backyard in Livermore. I dig them in late April and early May.”
Peko-Peko bentos are available at Umami Mart on Tuesdays and Thursdays, by delivery Tuesday through Friday, and by special order on weekends through goodeggs.com. For a service in between catering and the bento, Brackett offers a shidashi delivery, consisting of a menu of four to seven different items. He prepares the food, arranges it on platters and in wooden boxes, and delivers it. —KS
Peko-Peko Japanese Catering: 415.710.3926, eatpekopeko.com