Thursday, September 18, 2014

The stories behind the most gorgeous dishes in Japan

Beyond a nondescript door and up a dimly lit staircase lies the world of Tokyo chef Yoshiaki Takazawa

Takazawa presides over his eponymous 10-seat restaurant on a slightly raised platform, where he puts the final details on the food. 

Offering service and presentation based on a Japanese tea ceremony, he encourages guests to take a three-hour culinary journey with him. 
Each dish on the set menu tells a story with both unique techniques and unexpected tastes, making Takazawa's menu one of the most coveted in the world. 

In this dish, "Rock on the Seashore," Takazawa disguises bass with a black bread skin and fills it with potato puree to make it look like a stone. It's accompanied by Spanish shellfish and covered with seaweed from Okinawa. 

Takazawa's take: "I wanted to express the seaside as lively as possible on the dinner table. I also wanted to present something new and different from the common plate of bass wrapped in pie."

In the "Dinosaur Egg from Miyazaki," the egg is actually a brightly flavored meringue filled with mango puree. The egg shell is white chocolate with turmeric and chile powder and the dino footprints are made of wasabi. 

Takazawa's take: "I found this round mold in New York and thought it was an interesting shape -- like a dinosaur egg. When I traveled in Mexico, people were eating tropical fruits with chili powder and I also found this interesting. So I used wasabi, as footprints, to be eaten with fruit."

With "Ayu in Clear Stream," Takazawa uses a special technique that appears to freeze the fish in motion. The fish are served with a delicious cucumber soup, as the ayu fish is said to smell like the vegetable when it's fresh. 

Takazawa's take: "I wanted to express the summer season of the river and the mountains. Ayu is a typical seasonal river fish. I show the live ayu to the customers first so they can see how lively they look when they swim and jump in the river."

Takazawa's take on caviar, his "Raindrops" are actually tiny beads of tomato water. The dish is presented by delicately allowing each drop to shower down a lotus leaf onto a delicately cooked hamo fish. 

Takazawa's take: "I always want to express seasons on my plate. This plate expresses the rainy season, written as 'plum rain' in Japanese characters, so that's why I use plum in the soup. Hamo fish is also the fish of the season."

Takazawa's ratatouille features 15 vegetables all cooked separately then wrapped sushi-style with red cabbage. It's best eaten in one bite to allow each flavor to reveal itself one at a time. 

Takazawa's take: "This is my signature plate. The biggest number of cooking techniques are used to make this dish. A lot of restaurants offer vegetable terrine, but usually they are served as big slices. I wanted to offer it in one bite so my guests can enjoy all the vegetables together at once."

As you're cracking that layer of beautiful crème brulee -- surprise! It's a rich foie gras accompanied by mango-chile papaya salad served in an aluminum tea-light holder. 

Takazawa's take: "The dish started with this candle holder, found in a small general store in Japan. I found the shape interesting so bought (several). Later I wondered if there's any way I can utilize this for my dishes and came up with this idea. Since the top of holder should be burned as they are used, it made me think of caramelizing and crème brulee." 

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