The Yomiuri ShimbunThis series discusses washoku traditional Japanese cuisine as it is now and its future. In this installment, The Yomiuri Shimbun interviews a renowned chef who speaks about his commitment to the profession.
Hiroyuki Kanda / Owner of Japanese restaurant Kanda in Tokyo
Culinarians who do not have confidence in their cooking tend to beef up the flavor of their dishes. But what is important is to make a dish taste as light as it possibly can — to the point where people feel it tastes good despite being lightly seasoned.
This skill is the result of years of practice. Yet at the same time, using the skill tests our confidence. It’s like a pitcher throwing a straight ball with confidence.
The palatability of dishes with minimal seasoning is based on a fine balance among various factors such as temperature and flavor. I want people to eat such dishes with heightened sensitivity. I believe this is what Japanese cuisine is about, and I have devoted my life to the pursuit of this belief.
The most suitable way to showcase the palatability of ingredients is owan, or serving them in a clear soup in a lacquered bowl.
When I serve kurumaebi no shinjo wan, or a bowl of soup with prawn paste, I want customers to taste the light flavor of the dashi broth as well as the flavors of the shrimp and bamboo shoots. At the same time, I want them to get a sense of the season and the cook’s wisdom and philosophy. I think the true taste of a dish can please the brain as well as the taste buds of someone who eats it.
My parents operate a catering business in Tokushima Prefecture. For as long as I can remember, I thought about becoming a cook. After finishing my cooking apprenticeship in Osaka Prefecture, I was asked to be the top chef at a Japanese restaurant in Paris in my early 20s.
For the roughly five years I spent in Paris, I always questioned myself on what Japanese cuisine is. I was always searching for answers to questions such as, “If a dish is prepared by a Japanese person, is it automatically a Japanese dish?” or “Is fish in France suitable for cooking a Japanese dish?”
I think the Japanese have a unique aesthetic sense. They find beauty in simplicity, such as in a single flower, rather than many flowers, placed in a vase in a tokonoma alcove.
The same is true of painting. In Western oil paintings, colors fill the canvas, while a suibokuga ink painting leaves empty space in the untouched white of the paper, depicting only what is necessary.
The kind of dish I aim for can only be created in a space where I can stay close to my customers, make eye contact with them and convey something of myself to them.
My restaurant has eight seats at the counter as our main section, and I serve dishes as I see fit. By paying attention to the reactions and expressions of my customers, I decide what to serve them next, so that customers can eat hot, freshly cooked dishes.
These days, many Japanese households have flexibly adopted a wider variety of international cuisine.
But Japanese cuisine, which has been finely honed, has been disappearing from such kitchens. Thus, I think it is necessary to continue serving Japanese cuisine at restaurants.
This is the reason I established nonprofit organization Fuudo with some other culinarians about 10 years ago.
We lease a rice paddy in Niigata Prefecture and take young cooks there to plant and harvest rice together. By touching the soil, we can develop our imagination.
The name of the organization derives from fu (wind) and do (earth), as I believe “a dish is a creation of earth and wind.” The name is also a pun on the word “food.”
I believe when people consider how many ears of rice are needed to serve a bowl of rice, their attitude toward cooking will change.
— This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Takashi Nishiuchi.
Oyakodon rice bowl with runny eggs
“The best kind of dish is a home-cooked meal prepared for your family, not for someone you don’t know,” Kanda said. He suggests oyakodon rice bowl with eggs that are somewhat fluffy yet firm.
According to the classic oyakodon recipe, dashi broth, chicken and other ingredients are put in the same pan, and once they are cooked, beaten eggs are drizzled over it all.
But Kanda suggests not beating the eggs beforehand, instead cracking them into the pan directly, just as you would if frying an egg over easy.
While shaking the pan over low heat, break up only the egg whites to let them soak up the broth. The eggs will begin to cook and get a firmer texture.
Finally, break the half-cooked yolk so it spreads over everything — and you will have runny eggs for your oyakodon.
For this dish, use two eggs for one large donburi bowl of rice. The amount of broth required is almost equal to the volume of the eggs. Season the broth with soy sauce and mirin, using an amount equivalent to one-sixth of the broth for each seasoning.
■ Hiroyuki Kanda
Born in Tokushima Prefecture in 1963. After serving as an apprentice in Osaka Prefecture, he went to France in 1986 to become a top chef at a Japanese restaurant. He returned to Japan in 1991. While working at the restaurant Aoyagi in Tokushima, he was involved in the restaurant’s expansion to Tokyo. He opened his restaurant in Motoazabu, Tokyo, in 2004, and it has now earned three Michelin stars for the 11th straight year.
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