We were recently invited to an exclusive experience with master chef of Kyoto cuisine, Mr Takuji Takahashi. He was joined by the students who are studying culinary arts in YTL International College of Hotel Management, tutors and other top chefs from surrounding hotels and restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. This was conducted by Mr Takahashi himself, to increase awareness of Japanese Cuisine amongst Malaysians in conjunction with the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The session started with an introduction to the formation of Japanese cuisine, culture and agriculture that plays a huge role in understanding the art of Japanese food. In this moment captured, Chef was trying to explain the main elements that are present in everyday cooking which comprises of mirin, soy sauce, sake and dashi.
Mr Takahashi comes from a family of three generations of chefs and inherited a Michelin Star Restaurant, Kinobu, located in Kyoto after working in Kiccho, Tokyo for 5 years. He also has the qualifications of a senior sommelier and professional sake brewer. He is also a proud Washoku ambassador promoting Japanese food all over the world and shared his knowledge about the different cooking methods as well as the attractions of Japanese ingredients.
Watching his demostration throughout the day was quite an experience as every ingredient was treated with the utmost respect, being the extremely precise chef that he is. It's all about the small details and the simplicity when it comes to Japanese food. Something he mentioned really stood out - he always tries to reinvent a simple dish over and over until it becomes perfect using the same ingredients which eventually evolves into a masterpiece.
He demonstrated four dishes step by step that we also got to taste at the end of the live cooking session. The first three serving plates was brought in by Chef from his restaurant in Kyoto ranging from RM 200 - RM2,500 per plate as they are all specially handcrafted.
The first dish that we tried is the Iniawa Udon which was simply delicious, usually served as an entree before a main meal. The yuzu citrus came through with every mouthful with a hint of sake.
Next we moved on to the Tokushima beef grilled in yuan style served with sea-urchin with freshly grated Japanese radish. This is one of Mr Takahashi's signature dishes in Kinobu restaurant. The meat was cooked to perfection that just melts in your mouth with the sea-urchin and a hint of spice from the mustard. This was the most outstanding masterpiece of them all, truly a work of art.
As Japan is made up of 6,852 Islands, the seafood there is exquisite and extremely fresh. The different islands in Japan have different species of fish, giving us a wide range of choices. We tasted this teriyaki yellowtail, that was fresh, coated with the sauce evenly that was just simply heavenly.
Some other interesting facts that we discovered during this masterclass is that the Japanese take pride in their rice having over 300 different varieties and priced accordingly. The locals in Japan purchase rice by the brand preference, the way he described it was like purchasing a high quality handbag or something from the local markets which differs in price and quality. However rice fields are like vineyards in the sense that the rice is adjusted in accordance to the local climate and soil to develop new varieties. The cultivation of new rice varieties is not just about creating a good quality rice but also to make them resistant to cold and pests to improve the yield. We ended with a Japanese-style paella with scallops dressed with a lightly coloured soy sauce.
Following that was a panel Q&A session carried out by Mr Hideaki Oritsuki (far right) and Mr Cheong Cherng Long (middle) and Mr Takuji Takahashi (far left). Both of them are from Sushi Oribe, one of the most famous Japanese restaurants in KL known for its high quality sushi. To conclude the session, the three chefs gave some key advice to young aspiring chefs.
"For those who are dreaming to be a chef, make your customers happy and you will be satisfied," Mr Hideaki Oritsuki said.
"Training is key as it is the foundation to build your future, you will need alot of time to train and practice and you must pay attention to the small details," said Mr Cheong Cherng Long.
"Travel the world and taste as many dishes that will give you a positive perspective as a Chef," was Mr Takuji Takahashi main takeaway.
We also got to taste some Japanese liquor at the end of the session. Starting form the far left Junmai Daiginjo / Kikusui, a smooth and refreshing taste, finished in a fruity aroma, similar to an apple. It is recommended to drink it straight up chilled with ice. Next we moved on to Hakutsuru Plum Wine, a rich fragrance in amber color, a heavy bodied wine. This is to be served chilled on the rocks with some soda. Finally we tasted the Kubita Senju which is to be enjoyed with meals. This can be served warm or chilled.
You will be able to find local Japanese ingredients in the following grocery stores such as Isetan (KLCC), Aeon (Mid Valley), Suzuki Shoten (Publika), Shojikiya (Sunway Velocity).
Overall, we had an insightful experience educating ourselves further with this intricate cuisine everyone loves. As Mr Takahashi says " There is no cuisine better than another, it's how you utilise your local produce and showcase your culture through food to the best of your abilities."