Lady chef manning hibachi grill at City Island’s Ohana

Lady chef manning hibachi grill at City Island’s Ohana|Lady chef manning hibachi grill at City Island’s Ohana
Photo by Ben Kochman|Photo by Ben Kochman

This time, it’s a lady firing up the “volcano.”

One City Island restaurant is featuring some serious woman power on the grill.

Katrin Kamu has sliced and diced for the last month as the first female hibachi chef in the history of City Island Avenue’s Ohana Restaurant.

Lady loving locals

She’s helmed the large Japanese flattop grill as a rare woman chef in a field dominated by men – surprising some customers who expect to see a man wielding the cutlery rapid-fire on the grill and igniting the classic onion ring “volcano.”

“When I walk out, some people say ‘What? A girl? I don’t believe it,’” said Kamu. “But I know what I am doing.”

The steakhouse’s customers are taking notice. Kamu first took to the grill a month ago, filling in for another chef on a busy night. Since then, the female flame maestro has been part of the eatery’s permanent rotation.

“People love it, especially the women,” said Rod Rodriguez, Ohana’s owner. “We know it’s unusual, but this is America. We’re all about breaking the rules.”

Breaking the mold

Kamu, originally from Indonesia, had been working at Ohana for six years as a server, prep chef and sushi chef. She’s been cooking professionally for over a decade.

But hibachi, or teppanyaki – an originally Japanese style of cooking made famous in America by the Benihana restaurant chain – presented its own set of challenges.

Customers visit not only for the taste, but also to see a show filled with skillful spatula moves, big fires and expert flips.

Traditional gender roles back East, she added, often limit a woman’s role in the kitchen.

“I had friends at home who said ‘don’t do it!” said Kamu.

Watch out for ‘egg roll’

The budding chef said she’s relied on her fellow chefs to teach her the proper form – and one month in, she’s still working out the kinks.

“With the egg, it’s very hard,” she said, referring to the customary hibachi maneuver of tossing the egg into the crevice at the top of a chef’s hat. “You don’t want to miss and get egg on the person behind you!”

Kamu says she’ll soon be up to speed with her extreme spatula moves. In the meantime, she’s already figured out the most important part of cooking – making the food taste good.

“It’s delicious,” said 10-year-old Guadalupe Alicea between bites of fried rice during a recent lunch. “I like her cooking better than the male chef’s version.”

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.
Kamu dazzles 10-year-old Guadalupe Alicea with her fiery cooking technique.
Photo by Ben Kochman