Seasonality is at the core of Japanese cuisine. Throughout Japan’s long culinary history, the seasons have been expressed in specific, traditional ways.
The foundation of this expression is the philosophy of “Shu Ha Ri". “Shu" refers to the most traditional expression, one that’s passed down from master to apprentice and adhered to rigorously. “Ha" occurs when the apprentice acquires enough skill to break with tradition and interpret it in his/her own way. “Ri" is completely freeform, and is used only when chefs have demonstrated a complete understanding of the traditional form.
When chefs reach “Ri" status, the individual expressions can vary greatly. Here are three top Tokyo chefs which have the most innovative expressions: Seiji Yamamoto of Ryugin; Yoshihiro Narisawa of Narisawa; and Yoshiaki Takazawa of Takazawa.
1. Narisawa, Tokyo
Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa
Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa describes his culinary style as “Innovative Satoyama Cuisine", satoyama referring to mountainous regions. Reviving age-old culinary wisdom, his approach is to make sustainable, nutritious dishes.
One such dish is Satoyama Scenery, made using fermented soy milk and seasonal wild herbs hand-picked in Kaga, Ishikawa prefecture. In total, around 500 to 600 different types of seasonal wild herbs are used throughout a year to make the dish. It is served with mori no pan – literally “forest bread" – which is fermented with Shirakami kodama yeast. This wild variety of yeast hails from Shirakami sanchi, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site comprising a forest of beech trees.
The presentation depicts satoyama scenery in real time, which in this case is redolent of Autumn foliage. “Satoyama (areas) are in danger now, so I would like to remind diners of the importance of it," says Narisawa.
Narisawa Minami Aoyamama 2615 Minato-ku Tokyo 107 0062 Tel: +81 3 5785 0799
2. Takazawa, Tokyo
Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa
“Most of our diners are foodies who travel the world and they expect memorable experiences in my restaurant," says chef Yoshiaki Takazawa. His restaurant has only 10 seats, and the open kitchen is like a stage. He emphasises that the dishes need to be original and impressive, both in taste and in plating.
Takazawa constantly tries to find new combinations of flavours, and never follows traditional plating styles. For example, in a dish that expresses the Mid-Autumn full moon, he employs a Koutake mushroom to represent the night sky, while pumpkin soup ladled atop the black fungus symbolises the moon. The mushroom itself is typically used in clear soups alongside kelp and bonito flake stock, but here he pairs it with the heavier, creamier pumpkin variety.
Takazawa 352 Akasaka Minato 1070052 Tokyo Tel: +81 3 3505 5052
3. Nihonryori Ryugin, Tokyo
Chef Seiji Yamamoto
Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s dishes appear very traditional, but he actually employs modern techniques in their creation.
“Otsukuri" is a sashimi platter made using seasonal ingredients, in which the visual aspect is very important. This dish is therefore known to be the one that best showcases a chef’s technique and sensibility.
Squid caught in the Autumn has flesh that is of a different flavour compared to when caught in other seasons, with the sweetest part being the middle of the meat. So in the squid sashimi dish, Yamamoto made deeper cuts to the middle than on the sides, so that the sweetness can be enjoyed at first bite.
Overall, the plating is very subdued, as Yamamoto believes that “the chef is not a storyteller, just a voice of the ingredients".
Nihinryori Ryugin 106-0032 Tokyo Minato, Roppongi 7 Chrome 17-24 Eisu building Japan Tel: +81 3 3423 8006