Ishikawa Cook It Raw report
Cook It Raw, season 4 in Japan : Ishikawa
Can you pair gastronomy and ecology? A culinary creation and the preservation of knowledge? Since May 2009 a group chefs who are amongst the most innovative in the world have been involved in proving that this can be done.
On the fringes of the last summit on global warming, a group of ten chefs in fact found themselves in Copenhagen at the instigation of Rene Redzepi, leading chef in Scandinavian nouvelle cuisine. There these great names in the field of flavour were given a challenge: to put together a meal based on local products which were raw, with the intention of using minimal energy. This was the first entirely raw gourmet meal: Cook it Raw was born.
Since then this spontaneous movement has grown. It has expanded, even been exported, since after Denmark, our chefs left to discover the products of Frioul, on the Slovenian border, before going even further on an adventure to Lapland. A real challenge when you know that right up, in the far north of Europe, you have to create a dinner which is solely based on ingredients which are fished, hunted or picked on site! Furthermore, the dishes have to be put together with four or six hands! A double constraint which highlighted the best of the Sami land, but also the teamwork which is inherent in putting together this cuisine.
Marrying tradition and innovation, creation and sharing of skills, respect and development of resources...All strong values which Nespresso is particularly aware of. It is therefore completely natural that the brand has been associated since the start with this new wave of gastronomy.
As, more than a stylistic exercise, Cook it Raw is a reflection, almost a laboratory of ideas about what food means. It is also another approach to cooking, one which is more responsible, more respectful of the environment and, at its roots, more human.
There is no question then of stopping such good progress. And why not try out the experience in Japan? The dream destination for all the world's gourmets. The idea was very attractive, the profound link between nature and Japanese cooking clearly offers a great area of investigation for Cook it Raw.
Ishikawa, the real Japan
In mid November fifteen chefs, who are amongst the most emblematic in the world gastronomy scene, then flew to the land of the rising sun.
Yoshihiro Narisawa, chef of "Les Creations de Narisawa" in Tokyo, welcomed those who had taken part in the Lapland adventure: Rene Redzepi (Noma, Copenhagen), Albert Adria (41, Barcelona), Alex Atala (DOM, Sao Paulo), Claude Bosi (Hibiscus, London), David Chang (Momofuku, New York), Daniel Patterson (Coi, San Francisco), Magnus Nilsson (Faviken, Jarpen). Without forgetting the new companions on the journey: Alexandre Gauthier (La Grenouillere, Madelaine-sous-Montreuil), Sean Brock (Husk, Charleston), Mauro Colagreco (le Mirazur, Mento), Sean Shewry (Attica, Melbourne), Mark Best (Marque, Sydney), Yogi Tokuyoshi and Kondo Takahiko (Osteria Francescana, Modena).
Due to jet lag, the first arrivals immediately went to try out the sushi bars which are open all night, but also the early Tsukiji Fish Market, before being tempted by a shopping spree in the Kappabashi area, where there are some 170 shops all dedicated to cooking utensils!
A welcome dinner, organised at Yoshihiro Narisawa's home, was the opportunity to taste a surprising variety of Chinese wines. The delicate presentation, extremely sensitive to the food, the hundreds of glowing Japanese maple leaves arranged on the floor and the table cloths like they had just fallen from the tree offered a subtle preview of the beauty of the Japanese countryside.
The next morning the chefs reached Ishikawa Prefecture, on the east coast on Honshu Island. In this traditional farming region where 60% of the land is occupied by vegetation, the harmony with nature is palpable. Known throughout the country for its cuisine which is very fresh and original, and its preserved traditions, Ishikawa was the ideal place to restore the image of the country, devasted by the dramatic events of last 11th March.
No time to unpack the bags and to get settled in the ryokan, these famous traditional lodgings where noise and shoes and forbidden. Having just arrived, the chefs go to the location of the future dinner, where they discover an assortment of products which are typical of the region: fish, giant crabs, fugu, roots, herbs, Japanese pears, and meat which is as tender as Kobe beef: Noto beef, from a peninsula situated between the sea and the mountain, where they also produce salt with a rare intensity - Okunoto Agehama.
Another surprise awaits our cooks: the meeting with the artists who have conceived and produced each of the fifteen dishes which will be served in the final dinner. Some of the chefs who had started to think of a recipe by discovering the products will have to change their approach. Some creations - as they are more works of art than simple containers - do not lend themselves to soups nor stews. The young Nahoko Yamazaki, creator of a superb fabric pattern evoking roots, had advised Magnus Nilsson, recipient of his work: "Please, no soup!". For this lover of raw materials it was inconceivable to add an waterproofing chemical.
A dinner in a famous sushi bar, Hosho-zushi in Kanazawa, the main town in the prefecture, brought an end to a long day. The opportunity to repeat an essential gesture: Itadakimasu, the greeting, shaking hands, which signifies gratitude for the food given to us. It was after midnight that they all discover the refined décor of their ryokan, which is both traditional like Kayoutei and designer like Beniya Muyaku.
The following day is no less intense. It starts with the visit to a sake factory: Kano Shuzo. To obtain, after fermentation, extremely fresh sake, perfect for accompanying a meal, you use a variety of local rice: gohyakumangoku. The taste will be reasonable because Satoyama should have already been visited, this invisible frontier between the world of men and the universe of the mountain, to go to pick and collect some berries, roots and wild herbs which cannot be found in shops. Alex Atal, Brazilian chef of DOM does not hesitate in getting his shirt and shoes wet, to find, in the small streams, the precious wasabi roots, while Magnus Nilsson heads into the forest, before coming upon, by accidents, lovely purple berries: "We call them murasaki shikibu" states Youshihiro Nariwawa, who confirms that they are edible. Just like mukago, a kind of small local nuts what you will find in many dishes during the final dinner.
Before returning to warm up by trying out the benefits of onsen, the wonderful thermal bath whose naturally hot water whose water comes from volcanic sources, it is necessary to discover hunting wild ducks. You trap them with a net, like a large butterfly net hanging off of a long pole. You brandish it at the last minute to surprise the birds. The wait is an integral part of the hunt. But, despite a good dose of patience at the start, you have to admit defeat and return empty handed. Perhaps the winds weren't favourable...
Fishing perhaps will be less disappointing. Sean Brock's natural curiosity causes him to get up well before dawn to go on a trawler at 4 am with fishermen using a net system which is designed to capture only 30% of the fish which go into it. Those caught are then sold at the auctions in Nanao market, where the ice boxes are filled with octopus, barracudas and yellowtails. There you can also observe the famous ikejme, a technique which consists of cutting a live fish without it feeling any pain. A good mouthful of udon, these Japanese noodles which should be eaten loudly, allows him to gather himself together, before going in the direction of Kenroku-en Park, probably the most beautiful garden in Japan, to assist with an authentic tea ceremony. A moment of rare poetry, a suspended time in which there is agreement. Falling behind, he leaves. He'll have to return the next time to stroll in Chayagai, the old geishas' quarter. We are now on the eve of the great dinner. A small sushi/sake soiree serves to the lessen the pressure which is starting to weigh on the shoulders of the chefs. No, no, don't bother asking, the account of this joyful "sake party" is classified.
It's finally the big day. The dishes made of lacquer, wood, metal or Japanese paper are ready to receive the creations inspired by the Ishikawa Prefecture. The start of the meal is scheduled for 1830. Fifteen meals are now included in the menu. The rhythm of the meal must be kept up so that dessert doesn't end up being served at 2 in the morning! David Chang takes things in hand. Positioned at the pass he oversees the tempo: 20 minutes between courses. As a bonus, it is the chefs, these star chefs, celebrated in all arenas, who are serving and setting out their peers' creations. A good lesson in humility and mutual aid. After the baguettes appear all the products which were discovered and tasted during these four days submerged in the heart of the profound nature of Ishikawa. Even wasabi resurfaced in the form of small leaves, more pungent, more concentrated in flavour, in Ben Shewry's dish, a sensitive composition which mixes small spring onions, shrimp eggs, raw shrimp and chrysanthemum petals, a comfort dish which he called "Dry your eyes sweetheart". Another high point of the soiree was the arrival, in complete darkness, of Narisawa's dish. A Japanese paper lantern, inside of which was a candle carved from a vegetable, in the middle of a sweet marriage of crab and herb broth. A light, a hope, a prayer for nature and man which throws new perspective on the spirit of Cook it Raw, which will be integral to it.
The next destination? Who knows. Perhaps America. The Amazon probably. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the influence of this powerful experience in Ishikawa will have some influence on the cuisine of each of the chefs. Another reason to go to one of their restaurants...