The secrets of kaiseki cuisine: an interview with Ichiro Kubota

03 May 2017 in Food Culture

Head chef at HOSHINOYA Kyoto, Ichiro Kubota has worked in France and London and is internationally known for his multi-course kaiseki cuisine. He opens up in our exclusive interview.

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What is Kyoto-style kaiseki?

It’s a melting pot of styles! Back in the 8th century, when Kyoto was the capital, Imperial emissaries brought new cooking techniques and ingredients from all over the world. And other parts of Japan regularly sent their local produce as gifts.

Japanese speciality

Sashimi in Japan

So, outside influences are a big part of Kyoto’s culinary heritage. Plus, our region has rich natural resources, including an incredible range of freshwater fish from Lake Biwa.

What is your signature dish?

My speciality is hassun, the assortment of appetizers that opens the kaiseki menu. For me, it’s an expression of each season. In spring, it evokes the bitterness of young buds.

Kaiseki hassum menu

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In summer, it’s about coolness. Aroma is the focus in autumn. And in winter, I use evaporation to suggest warmness. So, soup isn’t served in a lacquer bowl, but in a stew pot simmered over heated charcoal.

As head chef of Umu in London, what was the key to successfully introducing kaiseki to the UK?

No-one in London knew about kaiseki, so just by creating a traditional menu, I was being innovative! But I did make some changes. For instance, kudzu starch is often used in Japanese cuisine, but it has a chewy, elastic quality that can be difficult for Westerners. So, I used tapioca powder, which looks the same but is bouncier. It works well in recipes like sesame tofu.

What did you learn from your time in France?

I went to France to learn about sauces! While I was there, I studied both the Mediterranean style, under Christophe Bacquié in Corsica, and the mainland style, under Georges Blanc in Bourg-en-Bresse.

Ichiro Kubota

Ultimately, what I learned is that local people know the best ways to cook local ingredients. That’s why I always ask my suppliers how they cook their produce. It’s best to get inspiration from experts.

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