According to the great Japanese chef Seji Yamamoto, cuisine has the duty to convey all the richness and vitality of the best fresh ingredients
n 2013, traditional Japanese cuisine became part of the UNESCO list as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity, amplifying the worldwide interest in washoku.
Opened on December 23, 2003, on the day of the Emperor's Birthday, the Nihonryōri Ryūgin Restaurant in Roppongi will celebrate its 15th anniversary this year and it is currently one of the most renowned restaurants in the world. We interviewed Seiji Yamamoto, Ryūgin's chef and a great ambassador of Japanese cuisine in the world.
When did you decide to become a cook?
SY: As a child, while waiting for my mother to come back from work, I used to cook the recipes I had learned at school. Mom was very happy to help out in the kitchen. And I was happy to make her happy with my dishes. It was there and then that I decided this would be my profession: making people happy with my cuisine.
Why did you choose to devote yourself to Japanese cuisine instead of other cuisines such as French or Italian?
SY:At 19, while I was attending cooking school, I learned to make French, Italian and Chinese dishes and desserts. But I soon realized that in order to prepare authentic French dishes, I would have to live in France. My Italian cuisine would only have been authentic in Italy. And my Chinese cuisine one only in China. I decided to specialize in the authentic cuisine of my country. My dishes perfectly express our seasons and they might be called “Japanese comfort food”. Of course, I can only prepare them in Japan.
What are the concepts or philosophy behind your cuisine?
SY: "Concept" or "philosophy" are not my thing. The foundation of my kitchen can be expressed in these terms: "Feeling Cuisine by Japan". The ingredients, which are the product of the sea and of the earth, do not belong to us even if we purchase them, they are something we borrow from Nature. They belong to the sea and the mountains of Japan. In order to use these ingredients, you need to find a way to express the beauty of Japan at its best. In my opinion, a chef who cooks by simply following his or her creative flair and personality commits an act of hybris towards nature, which has generously offered these products.
Chefs should not personalize food. Our mission is to convey to our guests the energy of which the living ingredients were pervaded.
In Japan we are lucky enough to have a variety of ingredients that are deemed among the very best in the world. Naturally obtained ingredients have an energy that has nothing to do with products obtained from fish farming and greenhouses. I cook with the aim of conveying the richness of Japanese nature in the four seasons.
Tell us about your sources of inspiration and how you express them in your cuisine.
SY: In 2017, the Japanese government officially recognized 225 traditional arts. Ceramics, which bear the title of National Treasure, and other crafts that are part of the Japanese traditions, truly express a unique genuineness. There is this this place called Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square close to my restaurant that is a veritable inspiration to me (it is a showroom where you can buy traditional handicrafts, I would really recommend it to foreign visitors, by the way). Because my restaurant fully expresses Japanese genuineness, cooking is not enough, but even dishes and decorations must be an expression of Japanese art.
What are the secrets and ways to fully enjoy Japanese cuisine?
SY: Cuisine is also made of things that the eye does not see, such as fragrances and the serving temperature. Just think of pizza: delicious as it is, if you leave it on the plate for an hour, you’ll end up having to throw it away. It's a pity when customers waste too much time taking photos of the dishes, because their temperature changes inexorably.
In addition, things like smoke and excessively strong fragrances may prevent you and everyone around you from savoring a good dish. Since the fragrance is an essential component, at our restaurant we kindly ask our customers not to smoke or wear perfumes.
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