********** 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 ------------

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Eel release in Lake Llangorse Wales and Japan400 Plymouth festival ウェールズLlangorse湖でのウナギ稚魚の放流と日英友好400年記念フェスティバルでの“活けジメ”プレゼンテーション


Despite that the season of wild salmon and elver ended early this month, I decided to join a charity project to release eel into nature hosted and invited by Dai, a leader of fishermen supplying mentioned fish to Umu and also a proprietor of salmon farming company.

Elver caught in a net in early spring are taken care of in fish preserves until grown healthfully until appropriate size, which then are released to a lake in Wales, where eel is known to be extinct due to excessive fishing by the landowner. The project, which had begun few years back, already started showing positive results.
Regretfully Japanese eel has recently been registered as an endangered species due to excessive fishing of both full-grown and juvenile fish. Wild eel also continues to decrease in number around Europe, yet few volunteers such as Dai’s organization devote to actualize concrete plans to preserve the nature while sufficient number of larva still exist in the wild. Moreover, strict regulations are casted upon eel fishing including the elver fishing I once tagged along with Dai. The fishermen respect and follow the regulation, and such approach teaches me many things, setting me an example of a fisherman from an island nation. The contributions we can offer as one restaurant is limited, thence being able to be a part of the project was a privilege as well as a pleasure to us.
In addition, since our head chef Masato Nishihara, a friend of mine of 20 years’ standing who I lived under the same roof with during my time at Kitcho, had instated the current position almost 3 years ago, we did not get an opportunity to have same off days due to our respective roles. This time, upon many requests and invitations, we finally grasped a rare chance to have a short trip together. We laughed and enjoyed the whole trip, almost taking us back to 20 years ago when we used to visit potteries and farmers as young minds.
Left London at 1 a.m. after the dinner service on Thursday and arrived at Dai’s home around 4 a.m. while it was still dark around. Honey-coloured walls and straightly-lined roofs, the house had the charm unique to the specific part of country. After a brief nap in the beds that were readily made for us, we headed to Lake Llangorse in Wales by Dai’s car.
By the time we arrived at the lake, a team of staff from Dai’s company, Severn & Wye Smokery, was busy preparing set-ups for barbeque and eel larva for the main event. A group of children arrived in coaches after a short while, who then enjoyed hot dogs we’d given out before splitting onto a few boats and heading to the lake for releasing the elver. 
We prepared Chirashi Sushi with eel and salmon provided by the company while the kids were away for rough one hour and a half. Preparing sushi for great number of people simultaneously is never easy, especially with minimal equipment, yet I must say I relished contrasting environment under the clear, blue sky.
The kids observed with amused eyes and shot out many questions while Masato was handling the eel. The almost transparently pure smiles and energetic laughter, along with simple words of appreciations coming back from each one of the kids while we distributed freshly made sushi, we felt our hearts being soothed.
After the children had departed, we were invited onto the boats to go release remaining fish. My mood was lifted by watching the baby fish swam freely into the wild of lake one by one, leaving me somewhat uncannily refreshing feeling, as if it was I swimming into the nature.
The fishermen who helped at the event, specializing in traditional salmon fishing, showed an interest to Ikejime fish preserving technique I am extending around the UK, and as a consequent, I demonstrated the method on the leftover salmon. Conversely, their specialized miniature fishing boat had me smitten, and we promised to go fishing together next spring when the season begins.
Though the hard schedule from the morning the day before had inevitably exhausted me, I still manage to slip a nice dinner with game meat at a restaurant nearby Dai’s home before I was fell into deep sleep back in the room.
Got up at 6 a.m. next morning and made our way to Plymouth for the next event. On the way, we caught a glimpse of beautiful Autumn-coloured Exmoor National park embraced in the morning mist.
Arrived in Plymouth earlier than expected, we managed to tour around the festival. The festival named “Japan 400 Plymouth”, celebrating the 400 years history of Anglo-Japanese relations, is co-organized and supervised by the governments from the both ends and Plymouth University. Ceremonial arrival of a sailing ship into the Sutton Harbour where the first homecoming ship returned, a symposium held by recognized intellectuals at the University, stage performances of Japanese drum Taiko and Shamisen, and introductions to Japanese cuisine and Sake were on the itinerary.
While waiting for my turn for the presentation, I wandered through a port to conversed with local fishmongers and fishermen. The small-scaled, traditional fishing is also practiced by a few among them, and I believe many encounters would link to prospective supports in the future.
The presentations were presided by a renowned chef Peter Gorton who recently endeavoring to nurture young chefs. Following the introduction of Ikejime, demonstrated a preparation of sashimi, and concluded with plentiful inquiries during Q&A session.
To successfully return to the restaurant by the dinner service, we ran through the whole 820miles/1320km journey back to London. Masato surprisingly filled this entire trip with humorous stories, who was always fast asleep every time on the passenger sheet for the last 20 years, yet amused me again by dozing off right after we entered London off the highway where I most needed a navigation. I truly enjoyed the trip to every last bit.

木曜日の営業をこなし、夜中の1時にロンドンを発し、まだ辺りは真っ暗な4時頃、Dai氏の家に着きました。Cotswoldsのはずれにある、この地方独特のはちみつ色の壁とスレートの屋根、とても趣のある素敵な家でした。用意してくれていたベットに直行、数時間の仮眠ののち、彼の車で ウェールズのLake Llangorseに向かいました。
到着するとすでにDai氏の会社であるSevern & Wye smokery のスタッフがバーベキューや稚魚放流の準備を進めており、しばらくすると観光バスで児童たちが到着しました。彼らにホットドックを配った後、それぞれのボートに分乗し、湖にウナギを放流に行きました。
1時間半ほどで帰ってくるまでの間に、彼らの会社が提供してくれたウナギとサーモンを使ってちらし寿司を作りました。最小限の設備の中で 大人数分の寿司を作るのは大変でしたが、青空の下、いつもと違った雰囲気の中で楽しむことができました。



Plymouthには思いのほか早く到着し、フィスティバルの様子を見ることができました。“Japan 400 Plymouth”と名付けられたこのイベントは英日両国の政府とPlymouth大学の企画のもと、日英交流が始まった400年前、最初の帆船が帰港したPlymouthでの記念行事で帆船の入港式、有識者による大学でのシンポジウム、和太鼓や三味線などのステージ、日本料理やお酒の紹介などが行われました。
プレゼンテーションは現在若手の料理人育成に尽力している著名シェフ、Peter Gortonの司会のもと、活けジメの紹介ののち、刺身を作り、多くの聴衆からの質問コーナーで締めくくられました。 夜の営業に間に合うようにロンドンに戻らなければならず、合計820マイル、1320kmの道のりを走破しました。20年前からいつも、どこへ行くときも私の助手席で眠っていた理人は今回の旅ではずっと楽しい話を続けていたかと思いきや、最もナビゲーションの必要な高速道路を下りてからのロンドン市内に入ると同時に眠りに落ちるという芸当も見せてくれ、楽しい旅となりました。


Plymouthには思いのほか早く到着し、フィスティバルの様子を見ることができました。“Japan 400 Plymouth”と名付けられたこのイベントは英日両国の政府とPlymouth大学の企画のもと、日英交流が始まった400年前、最初の帆船が帰港したPlymouthでの記念行事で帆船の入港式、有識者による大学でのシンポジウム、和太鼓や三味線などのステージ、日本料理やお酒の紹介などが行われました。
プレゼンテーションは現在若手の料理人育成に尽力している著名シェフ、Peter Gortonの司会のもと、活けジメの紹介ののち、刺身を作り、多くの聴衆からの質問コーナーで締めくくられました。

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Japanese Chef Elevates Washoku Worldwide

Japanese web magazine, Global manager feature an interview with me. My friend translate in English.


Global manager

Japanese Chef Elevates Washoku Worldwide 

A multi-talented chef in UK
spreads the spirit of Kaiseki and lifts Japanese cuisine to another dimension.

Yoshinori Ishii is the charismatic executive chef of UMU restaurant in London.
One wonders how he might convey Japanese cuisine to locals who have had no previous knowledge of the subject.  Yoshinori, who learnt Kaiseki culture in Kyoto and later worked overseas in Switzerland, the US, and England, explains the concept of this work, and his passion for Japanese cuisine. 

Profile of Yoshinori Ishii:

Executive chef at UMU, London
After graduating from the Abeno Cooking School in Osaka in 1990, he worked for the headquarters of Kyoto Kitcho, Arashiyama till he reached the position of sous-chef in 1998. While he studied English, he was engaged as a gardener at Seiho Takeuchi Museum and also started a catering service. In 1999 Yoshi was appointed as the embassy chef for the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. In 2002 he moved to New York on the same mission. In 2005, at the same time as the ambassador returned to Japan, he heard that his former horticulture mentor, Mr Masataka Higuchi, had been injured, and Yoshi decided to go back to Kyoto to support his farm.  In 2006 he returned to the US to oversee the special course menu at Morimoto restaurant.  He has received many awards including the Rising Star Chef.  In 2010, Yoshi moved to London as Executive chef at UMU restaurant.
Being a chef has made my dream come true 

The Japanese restaurant UMU is in the heart of London in Mayfair. Yoshinori Ishii works as the Executive Chef of the restaurant. 
He aimed to become a chef when he was a high school student and at that time dreamt of working abroad. After graduating from cooking school in Japan, he started his career at a long-established restaurant “Kyoto Kitcho” Arashiyama headquarters. There he was promoted to sous-chef, working there for ten years. He got a job as a chef at the Japanese ambassador’s residence and worked in Geneva and New York. He has held his current position at UMU since 2010.  
“I loved creating things myself through painting and sculpture when I was a student. My love of cooking came from the idea that I wanted to prepare fish with my own hands. At the same time, I had a dream of living abroad through using my own specific skills. When I graduated from school, I chose to work as a chef to enable me to follow my dream.” 
He made his dream come true by working as a chef at the ambassador’s residence and he enjoyed working overseas at last. However, looking back over those six years, he thinks that he was supported yet confined in his position, and something was missing. His real challenge started from that point. He wanted to make use of his experience. When he was trying to get a visa in the USA, Masaharu Morimoto, known as an Iron Chef, made him an offer. At chef Morimoto’s restaurant in New York, he was put in charge of the special course meals. Gradually he began to distinguish himself and was awarded Rising Star Chef and other accolades.
Three years later, he gained his US resident visa and he was looking for investors for his own project in order to move his career to the next stage, when he got the offer to become head chef of UMU restaurant in London, through his friend from Switzerland.
The art of handling fish passed onto the Celtic fishermen

After living there for seven years he left New York, and moved to a new world with lots of expectation. However, he was surprised by the difference between London and New York. The prime focus of dishes at UMU restaurant is Kaiseki. However, fresh fish, which is the most important element, could not be easily sourced.
At pop up restaurant at Frieze Master art show
“In New York, fish is sent by air cargo three times a week from the Tsukiji fish market in Japan. In addition they have local fish in New York, so I could work in a similar environment. However, London was completely different. They receive fish which wouldn’t be eaten even in staff meals in New York. I tried all kinds of middle suppliers, and I actually visited ports, but I couldn’t get fish with which I was happy. In fact, in England they don’t usually bring ice to fishing boats. In short, fish is taken from the boat as it is, and ice is added at the port. The fish is stored in the fridge, and brought to the fish market when the price has risen. The old stock goes first and fresher fish later. All middle suppliers work in the same way, so by the time we received the fish it was far from fresh.” 
Yoshinori looked for fishermen who customarily bring ice to the fishing boats. And finally he came to hear that there were Cornishmen of Celtic descent at the tip of the Cornish peninsula who treat fish carefully. Whenever he had time off, he drove for eight hours to build a relationship with them. 

“Although they treated fish very carefully, they have no knowledge of Japanese cuisine. They don’t have a transport system like we have in Japan, either. However, we can make an effort to bring the logistics closer to that of Japan.”

These problems decided him to teach Ikejime, the traditional Japanese method of fish preparation, and even showed the higher technique called Shinkei Jime. Yoshi was finally able to request that they perform Ikejime. He wanted to show them that all fish are treated with such care in Japan. Currently, Yoshi gets a call from the ship about the fish caught that day, and he chooses and orders the fish for the menu for the following day. The consistent communication between Yoshi and the fishermen made this possible. ‘Give 20, and get 10 returned’ is the philosophy Yoshi acquired living overseas.
“Personally, I do not talk a lot but, here, I learnt that verbal communication is key to everything.   Japan, we do not need to express ourselves that much, as people can read your mind and often silence is regarded as a virtue. Overseas, nothing can be understood unless expressed in words: to the staff, to the customers, and to the world.”

With head chef Masato Nishihara who was executive chef at Shojin cuisine restaurant NY. We worked together in Kitcho Kyoto long time. We pursue best created Kaiseki restaurant outside of Japan together.



Friday, 8 August 2014

Real Japanese Wagyu Arrive! 日本産和牛輸入解禁!

Until now, an importation of foreign meat was nonexistent, due to strict regulations casted upon based on EU standards, including on Japanese ingredients. However, an importation of Japanese wagyu beef was just made available, and since the preparation period, as one of the Japanese culinary expart based in the Britain, had myself involved in the project upon requests from several organisations. Consequently, the Japanese wagyu beef finally came on to our menu at UMU, and the feedbacks have been more than satisfactory so far.

A short while back, a press release event was held at the residence of Japanese Ambassador, also served as an introductory party to domestic culinary professionals. Chefs from the MARC company had teamed up with the resident chef to prepare a menu to match the remarkable occasion. Presitigious steak cooked just right by the resident chef, carpaccio by the company's French restaurant "Greeenhouse" team, a roast beef by chefs from the members' club Morton's and beef tataki prepared by the UMU team including myself; the event concluded with great outcomes.

The obstacless that have to be cleared in order to create stable demands for the Japanese wagyu are still piling up; red meat serving as the mainstream within Europe culture, marking distinction from foreign branded beefs, unstable thus unreliable exportation from the producers’ side, and competitions between production districts, to name a few. Nonetheless, the ultimate hurdle that matters to me the most, to create a rejoicing experience for guests, has surely been cleared already.


先日、現地のプレスリリースと飲食関係者への紹介を兼ねて大使公邸でイベントがあり、当社の複数のレストランが大使公邸の料理人さんと共同で和牛料理を作ってきました。公邸料理人さんによるステーキ、フレンチレストラン“Green house”によるカルパッチョ、会員制クラブ“Morton”によるローストビーフ、当店UMUによるタタキなど、大盛況のうちに終わりました。


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

First hanting in Cornwall 初めての狩猟

Game is often featured in the menu at the restaurant during the months between Autumn and Winter, the ingredient I adore and caught using Western tradition. Most come from huntsmen in Cornwall, however depending on the type of game, come occasionally from Northern Britain or European countries nearby.
Grasping the last chance before British’s bird hunting season closes at the end of January, Geoff, one of the supervising personnel over fishermen and huntsmen of Cornwall, generously took me along to hunting. Between his busy days as a president of family-owned company mainly dealing fish and game, also a reliable supplier of Umu, Geoff travels, sometimes miles and miles, to enjoy hunting every Monday.
Left his St. Ives home in the morning and headed to hunting spot nearby Dartmoor National Park, where we were joined by his hunting crew.  I, being totally unaware of manner or method of hunting, was surprised by the size of the pack and number of hunting dogs that they brought along.
After a short briefing, we split into groups of beaters and shooters, and beaters would hustle game out of woods located between meadows, moving into the woods from each boarder. Shooters would wait patiently for an alarmed bird to fly out with a shotgun in their hands, and at a moment of opportunity, aim and shoot.
It was after we had passed through several woods, Geoff offered me to join the shooters. In spite of my love for fishing and number of experience catching various fish, I had never killed game with my own hands before and I, quite naturally, felt uneasy stepping into new field. Nonetheless, new experience is always a blessing and I decided to take up the challenge.
I fired a shot into the air, my very first shot, to try and learn the correct posture as well as how to handle a gun. A female pheasant flew up towards my direction being chased by the hunting dog, instantly I aimed (at least I tried) then I fired my second shot.  Without a hassle, the pheasant continued to fly away, with the dog also still running after the bird. Geoff said the shot I fired had grazed its back, to which I laughed assuming he joked out of kindness not to disappoint me, but next moment the hunting dog came back with a pheasant in its mouth. As I had never imagined I could make a hit on my first trial, I was both shocked and overwhelmed.
Along the while, Geoff educated me on the method of traditional British hunting, the state of Royal family-owned forests, and a system that can preserve the nature and the hunting culture to coexist with it. He, by including humors here and there, simplified his words for me to understand better.

In the end, we caught several pheasants, pigeons, woodcocks/beccases and snipes. The catch was unexpected success despite our assumption based on the closing of season and the unpleasant weather.

After returning to St. Ives, I was invited to join a birthday party hosted by Naomi, Geoff’s daughter who also sends us fish on daily basis to Umu, for her husband at her home. Geoff looked blessed surrounded by members of heartwarming family and relatives enjoying Naomi’s delicious homemade food, and I had such blessed experience. 



朝、St.Ives の彼の自宅から出発Dartmoor National parkのそばの狩猟場所に到着し、彼の狩猟仲間と合流しました。猟の仕方など何も聞いていなかったので人数の多さと連れてきている猟犬の数に驚きました。




最終的には多くのキジ(pheasant)、山鳩(pigeon)、ヤマシギ(Woodcock, Beccase)、シギ(Snipe)が獲れました。シーズン最後で天気も非常に悪かったので皆あまり期待していなかった割には大収穫でした。