A spectacular range of elaborate techniques
Whether you take the heat control, fermentation, aging process or cutting skills, every single cooking technique is perfectly mastered in Japanese cuisine, with utmost precision. When I say “technique” I don’t mean it in the way we tend to use it these days. I am not talking about technique for the sake of technique, that is too often used at the expenses of the food. The techniques I’m referring to all have a solid backbone that is built upon experience, observation, and a profound, almost spiritual respect for the ingredient.
Koganeyama Taigen, Kasuisai temple’s “Tenzo” (chef). A famous specialist of Shojin cuisine, the Tenzo gives cooking classes open to anyone. The temple has Japanese style guest rooms too.
Kasuisai, one of the major Japanese Zen temples, is located just 2 hours away from Tokyo in a beautiful countryside. Former “Food & Wine ” editor-in-chief Dana Cowin traveled to Kakegawa to discover the art of traditional Zen cuisine known as “Shojin ryori” with the temple’s chef, Koganeyama Taigen.
Kasuisai Temple and the meditation hall Continue reading
Japanese food culture is a major source of inspiration for many, and its influence can be seen all around the world. Let me tell you about my personal experience with this incredibly rich, complex and diverse cuisine.
I first travelled to Japan about 30 years ago. A Tokyo restaurant called Isolde in Roppongi area, asked me to cook for its customers for just a week. Then I ended up going back to their kitchen for 3 years in a row…We became friends with the owner, Mr.Yamaguchi, who opened up our eyes on Japanese culture. He took us to street food, sophisticated restaurants, and even to the workshop of a blacksmith. My first visit to the fish market, which was still located in Tsukiji, was simply fascinating. That market was just like a live encyclopedia, where I kept going back over the following years.
Michel and Sebastien recently published [Le Goût du Jardin], an amazing book about their beautiful garden. Herbs, flowers, vegetables, fruits, seeds, trees are presented just like an herborium, with dazzling photographs on every pages.
Ever since he started to cook, Michel developed a passion for plants. He has created his garden over many years, bringing home seeds and plants from all over the world, from Latin America to Asia, Europe to Africa. It is no coincidence that his signature dish, the Gargouillou, is all about herbs, flowers, vegetables, seeds that grow in a garden. Continue reading
A regional dish made of potatoes and a local fresh cheese called “tome”, aligot (pronounce “alleygo”) is deeply rooted in Aubrac culture in the Southern part of Massif Central. Its smooth, elastic texture stretches longer than your arm, and you’ll never forget its delicate flavor once you try it. At maison Bras, aligot is always served with the main dish, a tradition that goes back to Mémé Bras, Michel’s mother, who prepared it for the restaurant till her 80s. Sébastien has kept the family tradition, sometimes with irresistible variations such as aligot flavored with truffle oil and bread crust…
Traditional local pastry shells are served by chef Taniguchi from L’EVO as amuse-bouche filled with mackerel rillettes
About 2 hours away from Tokyo by the bullet train, Toyama is located in a beautiful bay and surrounded by steep mountains, both providing excellent and diverse seafood, produce and meat. The abundance of pristine water is also the secret behind the region excellent saké.
Former editor-in-chief of “Food & Wine” magazine Dana Cowin visited Toyama last spring and discovered a new generation of exceptional chefs. They all cook in different styles, Japanese, French and Italian, yet work closely together, sharing information about local ingredients and cooking techniques. This community of outstanding talents share the same passion for their Toyama region. Just like Michel Bras dedicated his cuisine to honor his Aubrac region by cooking with local ingredients, all three chefs focus on creating exceptional cuisine using ingredients produced and found in and around Toyama.
Bitter spring mountain vegetables
(Top) “Sansai” or mountain vegetables. (From left) “uni” (sea urchin), mountain vegetables, yellow sauce made with mustard, white miso and local vinegar, green “Kinome”sauce made with “sansho” pepper leaves.
The northern part of Kyushu island, in SouthWest Japan, has been a popular gourmet destination for decades. From blowfish to bamboo shoots, abalone to wild vegetables, restaurant Sato in Kokura serves a fine cuisine exclusively using local and seasonal ingredients. Author, editor, radio host and former editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine, Dana Cowin, visited chef Sato for a late spring lunch. (Blow fish dishes have been featured in a previous post.)
We are on the cusp of two seasons now, so today I’ll serve “Sansai”(mountain vegetables) and bamboo shoots (“Takenoko”).
Chef Sato Yoshimi (left) and staff grilling fava beans, bamboo shoots, blowfish milt on skewers and Shirauo fish.
Michel Bras never left his Aubrac plateau in Southern France, for the traditional chef apprenticeship at starred restaurants in Paris or Lyon. Instead, he trained with his mother at her restaurant in Laguiole, before opening his own just outside his village, in Le Suquet. Ever since, his cuisine has been all about honoring his region. Likewise, Japanese chef Sato Yoshimi chose to open his eponymous restaurant in his hometown Kokura, and dedicates his culinary skills to bring the best out of local ingredients. “Most of the seafood, meat and produce I use come from about a 10 miles (15 km) range! Kokura has so many excellent ingredients to offer, I want to provide them in the best possible way”.
Chef Sato Yoshimi from “Sato” restaurant in Kokura, with Ise ebi (Japanese spiny lobster) and bamboo shoots from Ouma known to be the finest in Japan.
Michel Bras has been traveling to Japan since the 1980’s and even opened his only restaurant abroad on the Northern island of Hokkaido. In 2005 he launched a full line of cooking knives and cookware of the highest quality with KAI, a Japanese expert of the finest blades. Japanese food culture has been inspiring his cuisine and his exploration of tools for many years, as well as his son Sébastien.
In a series of episodes, and through Dana Cowin’s eyes, we will share with you some aspects of Japanese cuisine which have been inspiring Bras, and vice-versa… With over 20 years of experience as editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine, she is known for her exceptional knowledge and experience of culinary culture throughout the world.
Dana Cowin having a Soto Zen vegetarian meal at Kasuisai Temple
This spring, she travelled through three different regions of Japan: Kokura in Kyushu island, Toyama on the Japan Sea coast, and Shizuoka on the Pacific side. She met several outstanding chefs whose skills and philosophy are dedicated to their regions and their seasons.
Toyama’s characteristic ingredients coming into a beautiful plate at ”L’évo” near Toyama
Dana Cowin with Kasuisai temple chef Koganeyama Tenzo
Dana Cowin with Chef Fujii HIronori from restaurant “Fujii” in Toyama
Local stripe shrimp and herbs at “Himawari Shokudou” in Toyama
Dana has also shared her culinary trip on her radio show and podcast Heritage on tour :
https://heritageradionetwork.org/podcast/blowfish-other-spring-delicacies-in-southern-japan/ https://heritageradionetwork.org/podcast/zen-soto-cooking-at-japans-kasuisai-temple/ https://heritageradionetwork.org/podcast/toyama-extraordinary-chefs-in-a-little-known-town/