Kaiseki: The Exquisite Cuisine of Kyoto's Kikunoi Restaurant
by Yoshihiro Murata
Forewords by Ferran Adrià and Nobu Matsuhisa,
£24.99, R.R.P, Kodansha International
Review by Nic Watt
The simplicity and purity of Japanese cuisine is seen no more clearly than in Kaiseki cooking.
It is food of the seasons: inextricably tied to the annual climate shifts and an emotional link to ancient times that is maintained in modern Japan. Coming from the words ‘kai'
meaning stone and ‘seki' meaning bosom, it is the heart and soul of Japanese cuisine.
Chef Yoshihiro, author of Kaiseki: The Exquisite Cuisine of Kyoto's Kikunoi Restaurant, is the third generation Chef/Owner of Kikunoi, following in the footsteps of his ancestors from Kyoto's Kodaiji temple. Interestingly, he began his culinary journey in France before travelling through Europe and finally returning to Japan to take over the reins at Kikukoi – but only once the lessons of his father had been ingrained in him. Namely, that food must always be refined and beautiful but not too delicate. It is to be cooked with love, technical skill and passion.
Reading these basic principles of cooking reminds you that the simple, well-executed things in life really are the true pleasures. Looking at this beautifully photographed cookbook you begin to see and almost taste these principles as they come to life on the page. The spectacular photography of the sashimi and explanations of the cutting techniques took me back to time spent in Tokyo and memories that I hold dearly about my time living there.
As I flicked through the chapters on the seasons, I kept finding myself going back to the pages on spring. Some dishes that appealed to my western palate were the "Vinegared Firefly Squid and Wild Vegetables", which combined the crisp texture of edible wild vegetables with the sweetness of the tiny whole firefly squid. The recipe for Baked Bamboo Shoots is the essence of simplicity, served with a leaf bud miso.
I will be adapting one of the dishes to our menu at Roka, namely the Smoked Cherry Salmon. Firstly the salmon is marinated in miso yuanji, then the fish is lightly broiled before smoking over the cherry wood.
I would adapt this to our robata grill and use the flavour of the flames and smoke to enhance the salmon. I'll definitely be making use of other recipes too; I've got quite a few pages earmarked already.
This publication is one for the enthusiast, for people with a passion not just for Japanese and Kaiseki food, but for Asian food. It's certainly technically advanced, but that's the mystique of Japanese food – all the training and tradition that goes into it. Its beauty is its apparent simplicity, but then there's such great skill in the execution. It's very much ‘wax on, wax off'. Yoshihiro Murata represents the best of Japanese cuisine. There maybe much that is unfamiliar to the readers but what will be familiar to us all is the communion between the work of man and the gifts of nature. This is truly a magnificent chef and a magnificent book.
Nic Watt is Group Executive Chef for Roka, 37 Charlotte Street, London W1.
020 7580 6464 rokarestaurant.com
MORE MASTER WORKS
- The Complete Book of Sushi by Hideo Dekura, Brigid Treloar and Ryuichi Yoshii. Apple Press, 2005
- A Dictionary of Japanese Food by Richard Hosking. Tuttle Publishing, 1996
- Harumi's Japanese Cooking by Harumi Kurihara. Conran Octopus Ltd, 2004
- Japanese Cooking by Emi Kazuko and Yasuko Fukuoka. Southwater, 2004
- Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji. Kodansha Europe, 2006
- The Japanese Kitchen: A Book of Essential Ingredients with 200 Authentic Recipes by Kimiko Barber. Kyle Cathie, 2004
- Sushi: Taste and Technique by Kimiko Barber and Hiroki Takemura. Dorling Kindersley, 2002
- The Wagamama Cookbook by Hugo Arnold. Kyle Cathie, 2005