Yoshi­hiro Nari­sawa shares his deep love for the earth and why main­tain­ing sus­tain­abil­ity is manda­tory in the world of gas­tron­omy. By Eve Tedja

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

Yoshi­hiro Nari­sawa, Nari­sawa

On one of the cold­est days of win­ter, Yoshi­hiro Nari­sawa re­called vis­it­ing a snow cov­ered bar­ren field in Nagano Pre­fec­ture. He was ac­com­pa­nied by a farmer who dug be­low the snow and showed him the soil where his chem­i­cal-free veg­eta­bles were planted. The soil has to be pris­tine and healthy for the veg­eta­bles to grow, the farmer told him. “I was won­der­ing how can I con­vey this sense of pu­rity and na­ture to my din­ers,” says Nari­sawa. This en­counter prompted him to cre­ate the cel­e­brated Soil Soup in 2001. It is one of Nari­sawa’s avant-garde sig­na­ture dishes, where chopped bur­dock root and soil are fried to­gether, brought to a boil and sim­mered be­fore they are strained. It is a trib­ute to ter­roir and epit­o­mises the con­cept of his in­no­va­tive Sa­toyama cui­sine aptly.

Yoshi­hiro Nari­sawa, who comes from a lin­eage of chefs, grew up by the ocean, sur­rounded by the moun­tains on the Chita Penin­sula in Aichi Pre­fec­ture. Like many other top Ja­panese chefs, he first per­fected his skills at ven­er­ated Euro­pean kitchens. Hav­ing trained un­der Paul Bocuse, Joël Robu­chon, Frédy Gi­rardet, and Ezio Santin, he headed back to Ja­pan at the age of 26. By 2003, he had opened Les Créa­tions de Nari­sawa in Tokyo, which was even­tu­ally re­named as Nari­sawa. He coined his cui­sine as in­no­va­tive Sa­toyama as a way to pay homage to his home­land where the for­est, moun­tain and peo­ple co­ex­ist in har­mony.

Lo­cated in the quiet and so­phis­ti­cated neigh­bour­hood of Mi­nami-aoyama, the restau­rant is min­i­mal­ist in decor and al­most mono­chrome in colour. Guests are treated to a sea­sonal 15-course tast­ing menu, paired with the finest Ja­panese wines and sakes.

For a few hours, they get con­nected to na­ture through a pa­rade of vis­ually stun­ning dishes, such as Sa­toyama Scenery and Wa­ter Salad. Al­most all the pro­duce are Ja­panese by ori­gin and crafted to ex­press their roots, telling a cap­ti­vat­ing story about the land, his­tory, farm­ers, fish­er­men and cul­ture.

Nari­sawa’s deep re­spect for the en­vi­ron­ment, re­spon­si­bil­ity to­ward na­ture and fo­cus on sus­tain­abil­ity are in part why Nari­sawa cur­rently holds two Miche­lin stars and is listed at num­ber 22 on the World’s 50 Best Restau­rants 2018 list.

I hear that you are of­ten found for­ag­ing across Ja­pan. How does that af­fect your way of cook­ing?

The first step, which I am still prac­tic­ing to­day, is to ob­serve the ac­tual place where the in­gre­di­ents grow.

We can dis­cover many things from it. I am able to see what is nec­es­sary to do as a pro­fes­sional chef in this field. The in­gre­di­ents and the en­vi­ron­ment where they grow are vi­tal and valu­able in form­ing my de­ci­sion. I visit farms and for­age in many parts of the coun­try, from Hokkaido to Ok­i­nawa. Each re­gion has its own unique fea­tures. Of­ten time when I for­age, I find ideas. The idea for Wa­ter Salad was found when I came across a tiny spring be­side a moun­tain where wild wasabi, pars­ley and wa­ter­cress grew un­der the na­ture’s bless­ing, undis­turbed by hu­man’s in­ter­ven­tion. I wish that the fu­ture gen­er­a­tion would be able to ex­pe­ri­ence this tiny piece of nat­u­ral per­fec­tion.

You must come across new in­gre­di­ents quite of­ten. What was your last in­ter­est­ing find?

There are so many in­gre­di­ents that peo­ple do not eat to­day but used to con­sume in the past. The in­gre­di­ent it­self is not new, but the knowl­edge on how we can use it is of­ten for­got­ten and this threat­ens its ex­is­tence. I’d make it rel­e­vant to the cur­rent din­ing lan­scape with my style of cook­ing and, hope­fully, in­spire fel­low chefs and gourmets. That is my mis­sion.

One ex­am­ple is a dish that I cre­ated for a re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion at Il Ris­torante – Luca Fantin at Bvl­gari Re­sort Bali. It is called Spiedo d’ ana­tra mar­i­nata alla soia cotto al car­bone, where I use kuro­moji (Lin­dera um­bel­lata) stick to at­tach the duck meat­loaf. In the past, kuro­muji was used as tooth­picks for its fra­grant aroma.

As the first win­ner of the Sus­tain­able Restau­rant Award at The World’s 50 Best Restau­rants in 2013, Nari­sawa has plenty of les­sons to share with the rest of the gas­tron­omy world. What are your chal­lenges?

The most im­por­tant les­son is to re­alise that as chefs we have to ac­knowl­edge that we have lim­ited re­sources and in­gre­di­ents.

Our en­vi­ron­ment is turn­ing for the worse. With this fact in mind, chefs are re­quired to think care­fully of the im­pact and the con­tri­bu­tion that they are mak­ing. The thing about na­ture is that ev­ery­thing is con­nected, from the soil to the dish that we serve to our guest. What hap­pens in the for­est will end up in the ocean. When we main­tain our Sa­toyama and pro­duce, it will di­rectly in­flu­ence the con­di­tion of seafood that we eat. It is our duty to not only fo­cus on one type of in­gre­di­ent be­cause we for­get that there are lim­its to this re­source. The en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues are fully re­lated to food and the choices we make as chefs. There­fore, we are obliged to be mind­ful on what we cre­ate. We are al­ways aware of these as­pects at Nari­sawa.

How mas­sive is the change that you face com­pared to when you started off as a chef?

Un­til about 30 years ago, we could find in­gre­di­ents eas­ily, es­pe­cially in the de­vel­oped coun­tries. Chefs only needed to have ba­sic tech­niques, knowl­edge and plat­ing styles, and they would be able to present their dishes suit­ably. Now, abalone and lobster are get­ting harder to find as our ocean gets warmer and cli­mate changes. For cen­turies, we have tamed na­ture through farming, but there are many as­pects that we can’t con­trol, things that grow in the wild and are cur­rently threat­ened be­cause we take them for granted or de­stroy them all to­gether.

We are fac­ing mas­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal changes, scarcity and even ex­tinc­tion of some species. This hap­pens glob­ally, not just in Ja­pan. I strongly be­lieve that this is the mo­ment for us to take the big steps and move for­ward to­gether.

Is there a way to pre­vent this en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe?

Go back to the roots, the ori­gin of your cul­ture. Seek the el­ders, the indige­nous tribes and learn from them. Hu­mans have al­ways been very close with na­ture and we used to re­spect it so much more in the past when we didn’t have elec­tric­ity and gas. Other than that, talk to your farm­ers. Show them your ap­pre­ci­a­tion be­cause they are the one who are hav­ing the tough­est time.

Of­ten, I tell the farm­ers whom we work with on how we cook their pro­duce and how our guests are ap­pre­ci­at­ing them. This will mo­ti­vate them. The key is ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

Sa­toyama Scenery

The in­te­rior of Nari­sawa in Tokyo

Tsub­aki & Koji Sumi Soil Soup Wa­ter Salad

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