Rocky Aoki Dies, Chefs Dedicate Bad Jokes To His Memory

Rocky Aoki, the man who brought Japanese culinary showmanship to America with Benihana, died last week. According to the AP story, Aoki was surrounded by his wife and six children during his final moments, which must have been awkward considering he sued four of those kids — two from each of his first two wives — after they tried to take over his restaurant chain. Apparently, they don't like his current wife.

Forget the gossip and dirt, though, and let's remember the man for his accomplishments: teppan-yaki, stateside. Aoki opened his first Benihana in New York in 1964, starting an empire that's blossomed into more than 100 restaurants and thousands of imitators. Every time a chop-socky chef flips shrimp tails into his hat, builds a smoking onion volcano, or tells a tired karate kid joke before serving you griddled steak and barely cooked veggies doused in soy, you have Aoki to thank.

Beyond Benihana, Aoki was a cool cat who wrestled on the Japanese Olympic team; raced cars, boats and motorcycles; was the first man to cross the Pacific in a hot air balloon; founded classic eighties porno mag Genesis; won backgammon championships; participated in a Cannonball Run-like cross country race in a stretch Volkswagon Beetle limousine; and once had a horrific boating accident that required 10 hours of surgery and multiple removed organs. When he came to three days later, he saw his wife and his mistress waiting for him bedside. Damn, player!

That's a life well lived, worth a raised Mai Tai or two at whatever teppan-yaki joint you favor.

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