Secrets of authentic Japanese cuisine

Kaiseki cuisine (kaiseki ryōri), generally regarded as Japanese haute cuisine, is a very important part of Japanese culture. As not many people are familiar with this type of cuisine, which is served in Okura’s Yamazato Restaurant, we would like to give a brief introduction to this refined cooking style.

The origins of kaiseki cuisine date back to the sixteenth century, where it was served in the elite circles of the practitioners of the tea ceremony, and is heavily influenced by the spirituality of Zen Buddhism. The health benefits and the aesthetic refinement of Japanese cuisine are two major factors in its international appeal. Nutritiously balanced, simple, artistic and a spiritual connection with nature define this cuisine’s image outside Japan.

Small portions
The Yamazato cuisine prepared and presented by Chef Masanori Tomikawa is influenced by the dining etiquette of Zen temples. Kaiseki style requires the serving of small quantities of food, allowing for a better appreciation of the taste of the food itself. This approach revolutionised the formal dining conventions in Japan at the time, which was characterised by sumptuous flamboyance in the early years of kaiseki - lavish quantities of food arranged in a dazzling display on several small tables.

Epicurean enjoyment
During the 19th century, the style was embraced by up-market restaurant owners, who transformed the character of a kaiseki meal from that of ritualized tranquillity to an epicurean enjoyment of excellent food. The kaiseki cuisine as we know it today - with its emphasis on harmony between the food, the tableware upon which it is served and the surroundings in which it is consumed - developed during the 20th century.

Despite of these changes, the original spirit of kaiseki prevails and can be summarised as follows:
1.  Use the best quality ingredients, preferably seasonal products (shun) or products that are slightly ahead of season (hashiri).
2.  Avoid repetition of cooking techniques in the same meal.
3.  Serve each dish at exactly the right temperature
4. Devote equal attention to the taste and appearance of each dish; neither may be compromised
5. Make sure that the food served is always in harmony with its surroundings – the tableware, the space and the season in which it is served.

One of the underlying principles of kaiseki cuisine is continuous harmony with nature. This runs through the meal from the very beginning (selection of ingredients) to the very end (presentation) of the preparation process.