The Japanese are connected to nature, society is structured and each merchant is a specialist. This means a sushi restaurant only serves sushi, and a fish specialist only buys, cleans and serves his fish the same way as his competitor. These standards guarantee a level of consistency and quality we see in Japan.
Luckily there are still some chefs that are not Michelin minded, more focused on their kitchen rather than their public image, and this is one of them.
The development of kaiseki is obvious as the refinement speaks for itself. You flip open the lacquer bowl to find a scene of festivity on the lid, fascination, reminiscence of Japan’s Edo period.
Kaiseki food is directly connected with tea ceremony, the strictness of a cuisine that has retained its roots for hundreds of years.
A steady regular sequence of multiple foods served over three hours, tai (pictured below) is served under a steaming broth of dashi and Kyoto radish. The red colored fish denotes a new year celebration and is served skin side up.
Plenty of seasonal fish and vegetables are included as a gesture to the importance of seasonal ingredients. Patience and focus is necessary, it isn’t a simple story, Kaiseki has many facets, the ensemble of foods, preparations and stories.
A chef can easily show off his talent by being modest. Decorations are based on Japanese tradition and many foods are symbolic.
Kaiseki has its own formality and I respect it for its simplicity and beauty, however the cultural underlying tones are significant and without knowing how kaiseki evolved it is just a wonderful experience.
The end to a kaiseki meal will never fail, white rice and tsukemono, each chef has their own ideas on sharing the ending to a superb meal, and this night green powdered tea is served with traditional Japanese sweets. A superb and delicious evening filled with seasonal foods and warm company leads us towards a prosperous New Year.