Japanese food wins over foreign epicures

Japanese food wins over foreign epicures

TOKYO — Japanese cuisine is undergoing a renaissance with sophisticated food preparation and delicate handling of foodstuffs attracting increasing attention from non-Japanese.

Locally produced foodstuffs also have been "rediscovered" by the Japanese, and this has helped people regain the confidence they lost in the face of the devastation caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

However, many non-Japanese are knocking on Japan's door to learn the skills of local chefs.

Derek Wilcox, a 35-year-old American, is one of 20 chefs at Kikunoi Honten, a Kyoto restaurant founded in 1912 that serves such seasonal delicacies as sashimi made from tilefish and crab meat. He has worked at the restaurant for five years.

Wilcox, who arrived in Japan after graduating from a cooking school in New York state, decided to seek work at Kikunoi Honten after tasting "amadai no kabura-mushi" — a steamed dish of tilefish with grated kabu radish — one winter at the restaurant.

Wilcox said: "The dish extracted the gentle sweetness and complex taste from the radish. The dish was not only tasty but warmed my heart.

"I felt shocked, rather than impressed. In the United States, sophisticated dishes like this don't exist."

Since then, he has learned to cook food very carefully, making sure it is arranged on dishes properly. He pays particular attention to seasonal elements.

"In the future, I want to open my own restaurant in the United States and introduce the cooking skills and hospitality of the Japanese," he said.

Kikunoi Honten owner Yoshihiro Murata, 60, said his restaurant has received an increasing number of inquiries from non-Japanese who want to learn Japanese cooking.

In the past two or three years, about 10 cooks from Italy, Spain and other countries have visited Kikunoi Honten.

"Japanese words such as 'umami' and 'dashi' have become commonplace among cooks in Western countries," Murata said. "As an increasing number of people have become more health-conscious, the greater the chef's skills, the more enthusiastically they study low-calorie Japanese cuisine using dashi of dried kelp and katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes)."

Many students from other Asian countries learn Japanese cooking at Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka. The number has soared from five in fiscal 2007 to 54 in fiscal 2011.

Lin Iku-shu, a 27-year-old from Taiwan, said: "Taiwan people are extremely interested in Japanese culture. Japanese restaurants and izakaya pubs are popular."

More people overseas are coming to love Japanese food.

According to a Japan External Trade Organization survey, there are 14,129 Japanese restaurants in the United States — a twofold increase in 10 years — and about 1,000 restaurants in France and more than 500 in Britain.

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