Breathtakingly, eye-wateringly, bank-manager-frowningly expensive.
How long is it since you were utterly blown away by a dinner?
Introducing Kaiseki…the ancient Zen art of “eating the seasons”.
A culinary art form that observes the harmony between food and nature and has been adopted among the Japanese elite as the high point of ritualised, no-expense-spared banqueting.
Only a handful of the world’s leading chefs have heard of Kaiseki.
What some have been moved to call…Poetry on a Plate.
Think mountain potatoes, just in season, from a particular peak. Or young bamboo, harvested the moment it sprouts.
Think smoky aubergine and sesame appetiser with shimmering, intensely savoury bonito flakes, plum wine jelly with wisps of snow crab and dramatic, steamed mushi shabu (steamed wagyu beef) with ponzu (citrus-based) sauce.
I’m writing to you not only because we’re friends, but also that I know you’re a lover of fine food and have a reputation as an elite culinary journalist. Your knowledge is legendary, but your food articles of late leave me to suspect that you have endured too many indifferent menus.
It’s my intention, therefore, to raise your senses back to full alert.
You might not have heard of ‘kaiseki’— you, and I suspect most of the western world — but right now this last great under-discovered Japanese culinary art form is, as I write, having a profound influence on chefs at the sharp end of the world’s most creative kitchens.
Joel Robuchon, the planet’s most Michelin-starred chef, called Kaiseki “the most sublime gastronomic experience on earth.”
“Kaiseki takes dining to not only to another level of perfection, but to an altogether different, more profound sphere of refinement.” Pascal Barbot of L’Astrance in Paris.
“It’s not merely about particular tastes, textures and ingredients, but a revolutionary way of eating that reaches the soul.”Ignatious Chan of Iggy’s Singapore.
My good friend David Bouley, manager of the Yamamatsu (Amsterdam’s only Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant) in the Okura Hotel, has invited myself and a special guest to a Kaisaki masterclass.
For one night only — tomorrow night — Kyoto-trained chef
Yoshihiro Murata will demonstrate the ultimate Japanese fine dining experience.
Join me…and ten other hand-picked guests… over a multi-course meal in the private, tranquil cocoon-like dining room of Yamamatsu (my favourite Japanese restaurant), and get a taste of why kaiseki dinning has been compared to eating lines of poetry.
The idea behind the privacy is to purposefully shut out the outside world to focus wholly on the elevated dining experience. The tatami-styled tables have sunken wells (so that you don’t have to sit cross-legged…I know you hate that!) and offer what Yoshihiro Murata styles…“the quintessential modern authentic Japanese fine dining experience”.
As a Kaiseki chef, his dishes accurately detail the change in micro-seasons. Which mean menus change as often as every two weeks.
Examples include esoteric and micro-seasonal ingredients such as junsai (lotus buds), grey mullet eggs, even sea cucumber roe. The preparation is very labour intensive with extreme attention to texture and aroma.
Kaiseki is different from conventional multi-course tasting menus in that dishes are arranged by cooking techniques instead of ingredients.
Typically, dinner commences with a beautifully presented sakizuke (appetiser), followed by hassun (which sets the seasonal theme), then a succession of simmered, grilled, steamed, dressed and vinegared dishes, followed by soup and desert in ritualised order.
Tomorrow night’s sakizuke course — I understand — will be rarely available spring mountain turnip prepared as a delicate soufflé — soft and light as powdered snow to accentuate its purity and green fragrance and evoke the crisp mountain air.
The second appetiser choice is steamed white sesame tofu passed through a sieve so often that its texture surpasses the finest buffalo mozzarella.
The “Sound of the Sea” dish will involve diners wearing iPods to audibly transport themselves to the sea as they eat.
Each course — served on one-off, handcrafted plates — is deceptively simple, yet make a deep impression:
Imagine a cube of sesame tofu, its powdery white skin concealing an ethereal, silky centre, partnered with sea urchin, tasting intensely of the sea.
Followed by sea bream sashimi with an exquisite silky texture, presented with sprigs of shiso (an aromatic Japanese herb with tiny blossoms that you tear off and throw over the fish to evoke drifts of cherry blossom falling from the trees on a sunny spring afternoon in Kyoto).
And I want you to get the sublime joy of Kaiseki out to the public. And spread the word about this multi-sensory approach to food: How it reflects the essence of the changing micro seasons, with menus that are designed to build up to a crescendo. There’s nothing else that comes close — the poetry, the aesthetics and attention to every detail.
In Japan, kaiseki dining is breathtakingly, eye-wateringly, bank-manager-frowningly expensive. It’s not unusual to pay over €500 a head for dinner, before adding the price of vintage sake.
As expected, places for tomorrow for this most prestigious event are almost impossible to get. They don’t have a reservation line and only take people recommended by existing clients…after considerable negotiation.
So please come and share the experience with the other specially selected guests. I know you will love it.
Tomorrow’s diner will cost you the low, low price of…NOTHING. That’s right — as my guest you get to attend this unique kaiseki masterclass…for gratis.
And you will also receive a signed copy of Yoshihiro Murata’s definitive book— Kaiseki: the Exquisite Cuisine of Kyoto.
Too good to be true? You know me well enough by now to know that I rarely, if ever, over a free dinner — without a catch!
All I ask is that you spread the word about the new kaiseki-style dining-room that will open in October 2011 at the Okura Hotel in Amsterdam.
It will be intimate, high-end and they will serve elaborate Kyoto-style seasonal tasting menus. They will be importing hundreds of ingredients directly, many of them never before available such as yuba (ultra-fine sheets of fresh soya skin that melt on the tongue).
But please don’t wait on this invitation. I would hate to give this opportunity to discover kaiseki to someone else. I want your opinion to be the official judgement on kaiseki.
Say yes. NOW. And be one of the first to discover what it’s like to “eat poetry off a plate.”
I would not only hate to see you miss out on this unique dinning experience, but I would also hate for you — and your readers — to hear about Kaiseki through one of your competitor’s magazines.
Urgency on a plate
As you can imagine, places at the table are as rare as some the ingredients I mentioned earlier. I’m delighted to be able to make this unrepeatable invitation to you and I’m eager to hear ‘your’ opinion about kaiseki.
But please don’t wait to reply. The word is already out about the event and I’m starting to get certain…well…whispers in my ear…from… you know who…
So call me… NOW. Time is short. And say… “Yes”.
I know you will absolutely love the whole experience. And put the word “kaiseki” on the tongues of your readers.
If you are not able to attend…?
I know you are always in high demand, but cancel everything. Then join me in this unique, one-of-a-kind experience.
If for some odd reason you cannot make it, please, please recommend someone else from your excellent magazine with an equally sophisticated palate — if such a person exists.
Restauranteur and Bon Vivant