In February, chef Mutsuko Soma said farewell to her post at Miyabi 45th and its loyal base of soba-slurping customers. Out of this bummer news was great news: She and her husband were welcoming a baby girl. Soma, who had worked almost every day since opening the restaurant nearly four years ago and remained in the Miyabi kitchen until she was 37 weeks pregnant (who in the what?), says it was difficult to leave, “It was super hard because Miyabi was like my child.”
Today, Soma navigates the territory of being a new mom to her four-month-old baby and being a chef in Seattle.
While the restaurant industry isn't kind to parents—and this relatable statement shocks no one—Soma is a chef determined to make it work. “I want my child to be proud of me as a professional chef. I don't want her to grow up, get married, and drop her career.” To that end, as promised, she is reinstating her Kamonegi soba popups, the first of which is a five-course dinner at Pioneer Square's Kraken Congee on August 22.
Soma studied the age-old art of making soba in Japan and brought her deft noodle-making skills to Seattle. To her knowledge, she's still the only bringer of the buckwheat-based dish on the West Coast. Nowadays Soma experiments at her in-home soba studio, milling buckwheat seeds from different Washington farms and exploring new flours. But giddy fans of Soma's handmade soba can expect some familiar dishes at this month's popup.
There will be the titular pairing of duck and leek, a classic Japanese duo of ingredients known as kamonegi, in the form of kamo seiro and tantan bukkake soba dishes, two of Soma's signature Miyabi 45th offerings. Chef Soma wants to “honor [regulars'] requests and give them the dishes they miss.” But Soma is anything but one note. The Kamonegi popup will also have a buckwheat congee, a nod to the subterranean restaurant and host, and for dessert Soma plans on serving the Internet-breaking raindrop cake with Okinawan brown sugar syrup and toasted soybean powder. Soma, a certified sake sommelier and self-described lover of drinking, has also prepared sake and shochu flights for the popup. (Uh, Soma, please never leave us again? Thanks.)
In related news, chef Soma won't be returning to cook at Miyabi 45th. In the never-ending puzzle of balancing motherhood with culinary ambition, she will run popups and continue privately teaching. Down the road—and may we hope it's a short road—Soma will eventually open her own restaurant. “The other day, I tempura-fried garlic flowers and it was amazing,” Soma said, explaining that a future restaurant may include Edomae tempura made with heirloom vegetables served alongside Edomae soba made with heritage grains.
As we all painfully hold our breath for tempura-fried garlic flowers, let's take heart in Soma's expanding lineup of soba-centric Kamonegi popups. Tickets for the Kraken Congee popup on August 22 are $80, and the cocktail reception starts at 6:30.