********** Yoshinori Ishii Executive chef of Japanese restaurant UMU in London ******************

------------------ 英国の日本料理店 UMU 総料理長 石井義典 のつれづれなる話 ------------

Monday, 2 April 2012

Japanese cuisine outside of Japan 海外で日本料理を続けるということ

I’ve always believed Japanese culinary culture to be both unique and high quality. Setting aside patriotic prejudice and observing as a person, I still see the great characters that elevate this almost art-like food culture to first class, such as the pursuit of the best ingredients, persistency in achieving top presentation and services, and above all, the culinary techniques.  From prime industry to market circulation system, thorough on-going training of professionals in various trades, maintaining traditional methods of construction and ceramic arts, the inheritance of the art of tea ceremony and flower arrangement from one generation to the next, philosophy of hospitality, all this seemingly very diverse personalities integrate with each other and to create one of a kind Japanese culture.

As mentioned, Japanese culture is steeped in tradition and history, this has helped develop a very specific set of beliefs and is also relevant to the cultivation of the land and the environment itself. However, these characters do not always impress audiences in the way that they are meant to.  It is perfectly normal that non-Japanese audiences with completely different backgrounds and customs to have difficulty understanding or accepting the form and quality of Japanese culinary culture for example  when the live turbot  is killed and prepared, it is done in a specific and  skilful method to enhance the texture and has to be considered. In most cases Japanese chefs have a quite way about them and how they work together as opposed to the European culture where the norm is to be in very loud and busy kitchens. When viewed by other cultures it may seem unbalanced the attention to detail that goes into every aspect of what we create.

Nowadays, “fusion style”, a mixture of Japanese food and foreign culinary culture, becoming more and more standardized in many countries, which I know  is an inevitable change in the process of pursuing culinary excellence, but still using Japanese formality and rules. The new style might not be acceptable  to  Japanese as “Japanese cuisine”, however to locals, it still is understood as Japanese or, at least, “unique culinary art performed by Japanese chef” even to those who do not eat fish or whose principle food is meat, the fusion restaurants’ contribution to Japanese culinary culture is magnificent.

Despite the fact that more and more Japanese chefs are becoming active in foreign countries , the Japanese food does not have a chance to be understood as culinary art unless the locals are open to trying “sliced raw fish and simply boiled rice”, and the fusion restaurant are often chosen as a place guests to have first experience. The reasons why very traditional, rather formal restaurants are not their primary choice can be learnt from the fact that there is no long established authentic Japanese restaurant famously exist in abroad, yet. In some major cities, Japanese food is well-received that even broken into precise categories such as Kaiseki style, authentic sushi, regional speciality, diversity of noodles, however these cities are still the few special ones.

The Japanese restaurants in most cities, on the contrary, often provide sushi/sashimi using local fishes or convenient set meals or fusion style, rather than traditional style, and London is not an exception. Reinforcement of the immigration law, limitation in ingredients, even with all the hardships we have to overcome, staffs at Umu have to as a team devote ourselves to deliver great culinary experiences, enjoyable by guests with different origins. Moreover, our first priority should be to work hard daily basis in order to continue showing the Umu’s means of existence in London.

There are 2 particular questions that asked most often during Japanese culinary related interviews or conversations;

First, “it must be hard to pursue Japanese culinary art in foreign countries”, and I answer, “Chefs are fortunately well-received in society. There are certainly some difficulties but positively thinking, I can find amusement in overcoming those hurdles.”

The other is, “it must be fun and easy being a chef abroad”, then I would say, “you must be kidding! The immigration law is becoming harder on us worldwide rapidly, let alone the cost of applying for visa. Ingredients aren’t as rich in variety as in Japan, and if I’d chose to purchase products from Japan, then there’s the problem with cost again. And last but not least, the communication can be disaster sometimes!”.

No matter where you choose to pursue cooking, hardships and excitements always co-exist, everywhere. 




“海外で日本料理を続けるのは大変でしょう”→ 料理人としては休みがいっぱいあって楽しいですよ!日本のような過当競争もないし、料理人の社会的地位も高いですし。ハードルはたくさんあるけれどポジティブに考えればそれをクリアーする楽しみもいっぱいあります!

“海外で日本料理を続けるのは楽で良いですね”→ 冗談じゃない!日本人を雇おうにもビザが世界的に取れなくなってきているし、それにかかるコストも尋常じゃない。材料も日本のように豊富ではないし、日本製を使おうものなら全てに輸送コストと関税がかかる。何より言葉が分からん!


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