Japanese chef Yoshihiro Narisawa does not do things the “conventional” way at his award-winning Tokyo-based restaurant, Narisawa. With the utmost respect for nature and the elements and in honour of the gifts they provide the chef in the creation of his menus, Yoshihiro Narisawa’s approach is focused on the “harmony of sustainability and gastronomy”.
Narisawa, Yoshihiro Narisawa’s 2-star Michelin restaurant, was the first ever winner in the Sustainable Restaurant category of the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in 2013. Sourcing, the environment and social responsibility is integral to Narisawa’s operations.
Unlike some restaurants recognised for their sustainable practices, Narisawa does not have an on-site farm where they grow their own produce. Rather Yoshihiro Narisawa sources his plants, twigs and soil – all key ingredients in the dishes at the chef’s restaurant – from the forest and meadows, as far as way from the city as possible, which are brought to the kitchens by organic farmers and foragers.
“If you live in an urban environment,” says Yoshihiro Narisawa. “I think that your relationship with nature gradually disappears. My cooking always expresses the message that it is vital for people and nature to coexist.”
Having grown up in a family who worked in the food and catering industry – his father and grandfather were bakers with a tea salon and pastry shop – Yoshihiro Narisawa states that his affinity with food is as natural as his resonance with nature and the elements.
The chef’s desire to inspire his diners to become aware of nature and their relationship with it is not forced on diners at Narisawa, although it most definitely can not be denied by diners either. Instead he provides his diners with the space to be open to embracing that relationship at their own pace.
Narisawa’s website states: “Guests should fall under the spell of the season. They should not only be eating a meal, they should absorb life itself. And there is no feeling that can exist beyond that experience, for one can not perfect that which nature has created.”
The chef was trained in the structure and techniques of classical French cuisine in restaurants across Europe, before returning to Japan to set up his own restaurant. Albeit his formal training, Yoshihiro Narisawa’s kitchen style and approach is far removed from the rigidity, restrictions and rules that his training provided.
Typically classical French cuisine makes use only of the best cuts of meats, uses only parts of plants and puts a strong emphasis on plate presentation – with little if no regard for food waste, since much waste is thrown away in in the production of French gastronomical cuisine.
Adopting his own values about food and waste, Yoshihiro Narisawa is conscious of every ingredient he uses and every part of each ingredient – no food is thrown away in the kitchen; no food in his restaurant is pre-cooked, meaning most ingredients are prepared upon the customer’s arrival, ensuring the chef can be mindful in his food preparation practices and be in the moment while preparing meals for diners; and menus are seasonal and tailored daily.
One of Yoshihiro Nagisawa’s signature dishes is Soil Soup. There are only three ingredients that constitute this earthly and grounding culinary dish – soil, burdock root covered with fine earth, and water.
“To produce good food, to produce healthy vegetables and meat, I realised how incredibly important the soil was,” he explains. “Seeing this, I became interested in using soil in my cooking as an ingredient.”
A second signature dish, entitled Essence of the Forest, served at Narisawa is a meal of forest delicacies including tiny mushrooms and berries, flowers and buds, a ‘leaf’ of lily root and a sablé leaf, a ‘cup’ of tannic rain water carved from a branch and, at the centre, a strip of crisp and juicy pork crackling, all served on a wooden slab.
Another signature dish is the Water Salad, in which chefs at Narisawa distil wasabi and watercress into a crystal-clear, semi-solid mass which is then chilled, in order to produce as taste sensation that mimics the pureness of spring water on consumption.
At Narisawa, Yoshihiro Narisawa has essentially cultivated a forest feast – using edibles from nature; serving meals on implements found in nature or created from natural resources including wood slabs and earthenware; and deploying methods and techniques for cooking including charring and smoking – and transported that experience to diners at his 25-seated restaurant in the busy city of Tokyo.
The appeal to Narisawa’s cuisine, which has become known as “innovative Satoyama cuisine”, is in its simplicity as well as its respect for the environment – the source of its ingredients. As a guardian of the environment and in his desire to preserve the enivironment, Yoshiro Narisawa’s approach to food is built on the richness of the natural Japanese environment – the Satoyama – and the respect of one’s ancestors.
From the principles of Satoyama comes Yoshihiro Narisawa’s purpose as a chef – to create food that is “‘sustainable’ towards the environment, and ‘Beneficial Gastronomy’, to eat healthy food, fine “.
All images: © Narisawa
Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable lifestyle and living, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com