International Young Chefs discovering Aomori: travel report

Supported by "S.Pellegrino Young Chef" Competition, the global talent search for the best young chef in the world.

-Day One-

Feature / MovementJan. 31, 2018

text by Kei Sasaki / photographs by Yasufumi Manda

Alessandro Rapisarda from restaurant Ristobar Di Gusto Italiano in the Marche region (central Italy), a talented young chef who emerged among Italy`s ten semifinalists of “S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016”, the global talent search for the best young chef in the world.
Responding to the invitation of Iwate Prefecture, he recently paid a visit to the country. During his visit, Chef Rapisarda enjoyed an overnight stay in Aomori Prefecture, one of Japan’s largest sources of fresh seafood and vegetables situated in the north of the country, along with Japan`s semi-finalist Chef Kenta Shibahara from "iCas storia" restaurant in Aoyoma, Tokyo.

※ What is "S.Pellegrino Young Chef"?
Founded in 1899, Sanpellegrino S.p.A. is the leading company in the beverage sector in Italy with its range of mineral waters, non-alcoholic aperitifs, drinks and iced teas. Since 2015 Sanpellegrino S.p.A. is also the organiser of this initiative called "S.Pellegrino Young Chef “.
The initiative consists of an international "Talent Scouting", open to young Chefs of legal age to a maximum of 30 years at the time of submission of their application. The purpose of the initiative is to support the principles of the culture of good food around the world, through a project that aims at identifying talented young chefs in order to celebrate their talent and encourage their professional growth.
"S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018“ Grand Finale will be held in Milan in May 2018.
In the gastronomic world, being highly acclaimed at an international competition can be a significant step up for ambitious chefs, and this remarkable competition offers an incredible opportunity to a generation of young up and comers. In this competition, not just the flavor of a dish, but the chef's eye for selecting ingredients, cooking skills, ability to present beautifully and even the message a dish conveys will be evaluated.
Sanpellegrino S.p.A. has been making tremendous effort in supporting young culinary talents and uncover those individuals that will become this generation’s next stars.

Lake Ogawara: A natural bounty nurtured by the Hakkoda Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Upon arrival in Aomori, Chefs Rapisarda and Shibahara first headed to its premier lake, Ogawara, located in the eastern part of the region. While a stream from the Takase River rich in minerals from the Hakkoda Mountains flows downward into the lake, the seawater of the Pacific Ocean flows upstream at high tide, maintaining a unique ecosystem of brackish water.

The lake boasts the highest-level-volume of freshwater clams, ice fish and Japanese smelt caught in Japan. On the day of their visit in early October, some fishing boats for ice fish could be seen a bit off the coast just following the opening of the autumn fishing season.

The two chefs boarded a small fishing vessel with local fishermen and headed into offshore. A fisherman quickly handed them some of the freshly catch, remarking, "The surrounding area is a prime point for large freshwater clams. The depth of the sea reaches 20 meters or more at its deepest point." Upon actually laying eyes on the clam, the young chefs exchanged surprised looks, as the shell was 2 centimeters or more and was stuffed with delectable flesh.

After their tour of the lake, they tried some freshwater clam soup, fresh ice fish, Gani-jiru (a local soup made using mitten crabs) and more. "These freshwater clams are the highest quality I have ever had. They are extraordinarily rich in sweetness and umami." said Chef Rapisarda, with Chef Shibahara giving him a big nod.

※ Lake Ogawara Fisheries Cooperative Associations  http://www.jf-ogawarako.com/

Kashiwazaki Seika’s Aomori Black Garlic similar to dried fruit.

The two chefs left Lake Ogawara for the Kashiwazaki Seika Company, which is engaged in farm production, processing and distribution in the town of Oirase in Kamikita County. Their signature product is the Oirase Aged Black Garlic, an odorless garlic that possesses a natural sweetness and richness of flavor that has drawn attention from the gastronomic world in the West.

Chef Rapisarda, long intrigued with black garlic, tried it for the first time and commented, "It's fruity, with a texture like a dried fruit!" with wide eyes.

"The garlic variety called Fukuchi White Roppen from Aomori Prefecture has larger cloves and is extremely sweet, with a sugar content of 30% or more. Aging can increase that content to 50% or higher." said Shinichi Kashiwazaki, President and spokesman for the company.

According to Kashiwazaki, black garlic was recognized as a secret ingredient in French and Italian sauces, but is now increasingly being used in salads and as garnish in its unadulterated form. Both chefs brought several bags of black garlic back with them, declaring, "Certainly we can use them for a variety of dishes." and headed to their next destination.

※ Aomori Black Garlic  http://96229jp.com/specialist/oirase/kashiwazaki.html

Murakoshi Shamrock Park: Aomori Shamrock Chicken

One of Aomori’s specialties is a homebred chicken called the Aomori Shamrock. This breed was produced by crossbreeding a yellow spotted fighting cock and a yellow spotted Plymouth Rock chicken, and possesses a finely textured meat high in quality and rich in umami. When visiting Masakazu Murakoshi, one of the leading producers, both chefs seemed to be surprised at the remarkable standards of cleanliness at the poultry house, excitedly murmuring, "No bad smells here at all." and "It's really clean."

Since Murakoshi's poultry house is situated on a mound of earth, the inside of the poultry house is kept continuously dry, even in rain or snow. This is one of the most effective ways to protect a poultry house from bacteria and odors. Roosters are shipped 118-113 days after birth and hens up to 155 days after, the reason for the later-than-usual delay in shipping these chickens. On this day, Murakoshi himself grilled chickens freshly slaughtered that morning.

When cooked, the skin takes on a yellowish hue, revealing a rich umami recognizable only from the appearance. Both chefs simultaneously exclaimed, "This is delicious!" as soon as the freshly baked and lightly browned chicken touched their mouths.
“I feel a chewiness, strong umami and good solid flavor from the chicken. The meat is still juicy even after being well-baked." said Chef Rapisarda. By the expression on his face, we could tell his impression of Aomori and the north of Japan was gradually evolving for the better.

※ Murakoshi Shamrock http://murakoshi-syamorockpark.jp/

Hachinohe Shuzou: Challenges to the possibility of local sake "Mutsuhassen" 

At Chef Rapisarda's earnest request, this day also included a visit to a sake brewery. High-quality sake or Japanese rice wine is now becoming a standard drink for discerning diners in Italian restaurants.

The Hachinohe Shuzou brewery has been producing "Mutsuhassen," a local sake representing Hachinohe, since 1775. The 100-year-old brewery suggests a stately aura. Executive Director Hideyuki Komai (right) and his younger brother, Shinsuke Komai (left), the master brewer, gave the visitors the grand tour of the brewery. Their sake, including Mutsuhassen, is characterized by a flamboyant aroma and fresh touch. While maintaining traditional methods of brewing, they have also introduced advanced facilities, such as a storeroom that precisely controls temperature to improve on the delicate quality and nuance of the sake.

The average age of the brewers is 30. Centered around Shinsuke, the master brewer at the tender age of 35, they are highly motivated for new challenges. This is "mutsu8000 8PA," a sake created with beer yeast created from rice. (Currently sold out)

Of the 7 types of sake on hand for tasting, Chefs Rapisarda and Shibahara were especially interested in "8000Brut (tentative name)" planned for a 2018 release, which is a sparkling sake formed through secondary fermentation inside the bottle. Chef Shibahara spoke highly of it, describing, "The bubbles are delicate and the touch is light and smooth." Chef Rapisarda also looked pleased, saying, "I feel this sake has great potential for pairings with a wide variety of Italian dishes."

※ Hachinohe Shuzou Co., Ltd.  http://www.mutsu8000.com/

Although the first meeting of Chefs Rapisarda and Shibahara took place only a few days before in occasion of an event, they now seem like old friends. If one discovers something interesting, he will always mention it to the other, spurring hours of discussions on culinary exploration. The creative synergy conceived during this two-person trip has led to even more delightful discoveries and boundless inspiration. Day one of the trip ended with looks of contentment on the faces of both chefs.