Contemplating simple fare at an ancient setting in spring
Chefs share the spirit of Alice Waters’ “Simple food”
From left: Yuri Nomura of eatrip, Jerome Waag of Chez Panisse and Shinobu Namae of L'Effervescence
Alice Waters is a gastronomic specialist who has advocated local production for local consumption, sustainable agriculture and distribution, as well as dietary education for more than forty years. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse, became a mecca for the “simple food” approach based on organic ingredients, creating a long-lasting impact on chefs around the world.
In April 2014, Chez Panisse head chef Jerome Waag journeyed to Japan, where he, Yuri Nomura, head of food creation team and restaurant eatrip, and Shinobu Namae, chef of L'Effervescence, gathered at the historic town of Kamakura for a special collaboration of these three chefs who paid their dues at Chez Panisse and are helping to spread the message of Alice Waters.
How to hit a knuckle ball
Which part of his education from Alice Waters does Jerome Waag treasure the most? We interviewed him after the party.
“I value so many things learned from Alice, but if I had to choose something special, it would have to be the concept of eating seasonally and, to achieve it, communion with nature. Eating simply starts from listening to the voice of nature, using all five senses. Even the same vegetables growing in the same field differ from day to day, and of course all possess individual differences, each requiring special attention. It’s something akin to someone at bat in baseball trying to hit a knuckle ball by observing the movement of the ball. Just like such a batter, we also have to identify the right moment by giving it our full attention.”
Yuri Nomura, who honed her cooking skills in the kitchen of Chez Panisse as a trainee and currently organizes and develops “eatrip” and other similar natural food projects stated:
“What makes me respect Alice the most is her openness to everything. She is always perfectly transparent about relationships with food producers and distributors. I think that’s truly amazing.”
“Three kinds of bamboo shoot” styled by Yuri Nomura. For the three kinds of bamboo shoot: baked, deep-fried and dressed, local broad beans, the young leaves of Japanese pepper and the yellow flowers of Japanese radish are also added to express the fragrant flavor of spring.
On the other hand, Chef Namae offered up the word “trust.”
“Through its long 43 year history, what Chez Panisse acquired must be labeled as “trust.” A trust relationship between Alice and her staff, among the staff itself, between the restaurant and producers; or even between the restaurant and the community… I believe that all these strong relations of trust lead to a customer belief in taste and the restaurant itself.”
Chef Namae offers cuisine that values connections with producers not only at his main restaurant, L’Effervescence, but also at his new location, La Bonne Table, opened in COREDO Muromachi in the center of Tokyo.
“Natsumikan (Watson pomelo) sorbet” made to top off the lunch feast. Chef Namae used liquid nitrogen to enhance the fresh flavor of Natsumikan. These scientific cooking techniques would not seemingly lend themselves to a natural approach. However, technology is used to fully realize an essential approach, i.e. a deep focus on ingredients.
“To present something with simplicity and maintain that simplicity” is actually a challenging philosophy and is established using a multifaceted approach. Simple food arises from the passion of a chef with the goal of capturing nature’s voice, all the while remaining free from egocentricity and being bound by fixed thinking.
Tokeiji, the venue of this event, is a Zen temple. The philosophy of Zen may possess a deep connection with the concept of simple food.
Chefs carrying on in the footsteps of Alice Waters are now active worldwide. They continue on their “journey to explore the good palate,” establishing bonds with local producers, being involved in activities to promote their philosophy to foodies around the globe and are always seeking to meet new sojourners and opportunities to improve their artistry and expand their culinary palette.
English translation by Yuko Wada and Sean Gaston