The judges get a culture shock when they take nine contestants to Japan for a much-needed masterclass, writes COLIN VICKERY
JAPAN is not all karaoke bars and cherry blossoms, as the lucky contestants left in
found out. The ancient cuisine makes for a fascinating week of cooking and postcard television even the show’s judges found interesting.
Matt Preston had only visited Japan once before this trip - and that was 15 years ago.
Gary Mehigan made his first visit a year back, while George Calombaris had never been before now.
But as Preston says, the nine contestants who jetted to Japan got a much-needed masterclass in attention to detail.
“Depth, precision and obsession underpins so much Japanese cuisine. No matter what you think you know,” he says, “you know nothing.”
“You don’t go to a restaurant and have tempura and yakitori and sashimi. You go to a tempura restaurant, a yakitori restaurant, a sashimi restaurant – it is very specific. The chefs that run them are masters.”
The week starts with a mystery box challenge in front of Tokyo’s 1400-yearold Senso-ji Temple; while contestants also cook at a local Yokocho - an alley packed with street stalls, which feed thousands of Japanese locals each day.
“Around every corner and down every lane way, there is something exciting,” Preston enthuses.
“You can go into a place that looks a bit neon and plastic and you might have the best yakitori you’ve ever tasted. That is exciting.”
Mehigan holidayed in Japan with wife Mandy and daughter Jenna a year ago and admits he suffered culture shock.
“A lot of the top restaurants are 10-seaters and 12-seaters and impossible to get into,” Mehigan says.
“You almost need someone who is a regular customer to give you a reference or referral to get in.
“Fortunately there was so much good food everywhere you could sort of muddle your way through.
“Surprisingly, there are a lot of great coffee shops in Japan and brilliant pastry shops – they are obsessed with French pastry.”