Master chefs form culinary group to spread Japanese cuisine

April 29, 2013


KYOTO--The secrets and techniques of master Japanese chefs have been passed down to apprentice chefs for ages, leaving others to experiment in the kitchen to try to duplicate the sublime tastes and appearances of Japan's finest.

But now, a group of master chefs and researchers are compiling scholarly and scientific facts for Japanese cuisine techniques as a means of spreading them to an international audience.

"In order for Japanese cuisine to advance on the world stage, there will be a need for a theory that is understandable around the world," said Yoshihiro Murata, chef and owner of Kikunoi restaurant in Kyoto. "It is no longer an age of relying on such vague concepts as instinct and experience."

The 61-year-old Murata heads the Japanese Culinary Academy, which entered into an arrangement in 2010 with researchers at Kyoto University on a project named the Japanese cuisine laboratory study group.

The group holds monthly meetings on the campus of Kyoto University to report on its findings.

Among those who spoke at a recent meeting were the chefs of such noted Kyoto restaurants as Hyotei, Kikunoi and Tankuma Kitamise.

In the audience were those associated with various restaurants as well as scholars.

The dishes presented were the result of research conducted by study group members.

One project involved creating a jet-black sauce by using the chemical reaction that takes place when the chlorogenic acid contained in the liquid that emerges when "gobo" burdocks are boiled to remove the bitterness reacts with a steel pot.

In another experiment, hard water containing large amounts of calcium and magnesium was used to suppress the raw flavor of meat.

The experiments showed how science could be used in preparing Japanese cuisine.

Because many famous restaurants have traditionally passed down their recipes and techniques by having apprentices observe and copy the craft of master chefs, there were some who were concerned that putting everything down into a theory would only mean revealing secrets to business rivals.

However, Murata brushed aside such concerns and focused on the need to reach a global audience.

"If we continue to hide our secrets even from among those who are also involved in Japanese cuisine, we could lose in the global competition, and Japanese cuisine in general would fall behind," Murata said.

Those involved in the study group are concerned about becoming lost in the crowd as ethnic cuisine from around the world makes inroads outside national borders.

A number of Kyoto chefs have called on the Agency for Cultural Affairs to seek to have Japanese cuisine registered as an intangible cultural heritage with UNESCO.

"We hope this endeavor serves as a catalyst to have couples on dates say, 'Let's have Japanese cuisine' rather than debate over whether to have French or Italian for dinner," said Hanae Yamazaki, an associate professor of nutritional chemistry at Kyoto's Ryukoku University and head of the study group. "It is an attempt to have the Japanese people reconfirm the attractions of Japanese cuisine."

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Chefs prepare dishes at the monthly meeting of the Japanese cuisine laboratory study group. (Nanako Ito)

Chefs prepare dishes at the monthly meeting of the Japanese cuisine laboratory study group. (Nanako Ito)

  • Chefs prepare dishes at the monthly meeting of the Japanese cuisine laboratory study group. (Nanako Ito)
  • Participants at a recent study group meeting were able to taste four dishes prepared that day. (Nanako Ito)

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