I arrived at Anis two hours before service to meet its patron chef Susumu Shimizu. Unlike many other chefs I encounter, Shimizu insists that instead of being casually talked through the methods he uses in his kitchen I should observe how he actually cooks.
Located at one of Shibuya’s less animated corners, Anis is a wood-cladded, Paris-inspired bistro with a reputation for slow roasting and use of Japanese wild meat. Shimizu, who single-handedly runs the kitchen, has spent seven years in France’s most coveted kitchens – L’Arpège and La Maison de Marc Veyrat – as well as at Paris’ premier meat merchant Hugo Desnoyer.
Shimizu’s experience at L’Arpège
“I learned my meat-cooking skills from Alain Passard”, says Shimizu. “I remember, at L’Arpège, being a chef de partie in the meat section was like being a star in the kitchen. I started as an assistant for the chef in the meat section. Then I was moved to work in the fish and the vegetable sections. The rotation of chefs was very common at L’Arpège. Finally, I moved back to the meat section and headed it for about one and half years”.
“These days we are excited at Passard’s vegetables. Somehow we forgot that he first earned his name mastering cooking skills for meat. At L’Arpège, we used cocotte and electronic grillade to cook meat. If we used the cocotte, we would put it into a piano de cuisson or on the griddle. We didn’t heat the meat directly on the fire”. As Shimizu speaks enthusiastically about the skills he acquired from working at L’Arpège, he begins sewing a wild pheasant from Wakayama prefecture for today’s slow roasting.
Teppan Slow Roasting Technique
“When I opened Anis, I had to adapt my meat cooking methods. I did not plan to have a big kitchen or have many chefs. So, stove-top Teppan griddle came to my head. In Japan, we use Teppan to make okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake), stir-fry yakisoba or cook small cuts of meat. This means I can heat fish, meat and vegetable on it”, explains Shimizu. “But, no one ever uses it to cook big joints of meat or whole birds”.
Shimizu cooks the pheasant on Teppan with great intuition: “In my head, I divide this pheasant into many parts. I consider the weight of the pheasant and that it is aged for 37 days. So, each part is treated differently. I sear the skin very quickly for about two seconds. Then, I leave one of the thigh parts to slowly take the heat from Teppan. The other parts of the pheasant cannot be touched by heat. Before this thigh part becomes too hot, I change to cooking another part. It is about 160 degrees Celsius on Teppan. This way I can make sure the tasty juice inside the pheasant does not get out or dry up”.
It is otherworldly seeing Shimizu use Teppan to slow roast a whole bird. In the first hour, he tilts and turns the pheasant in many unexpected ways, using only a thick cooking ring to balance it on and off the heat. Later, he wraps the pheasant in layers of fig leaves and leaves it on the radiating heat of Teppan for one more hour. Shimizu keeps turning and rolling the pheasant during this time. “No such a method exists in traditional Japanese cooking. It is the closest to how I used to cook meat at L’Arpège”, says Shimizu.
MEATing: Japanese Wild Meat at Anis
Shimizu takes pride in diversifying his meat offerings. While chicken, pork and beef appear on the menu at Anis, Shimizu holds a monthly event where he explores cooking Japanese wild meat or obscure cuts of meat. “The history of meat eating in Japan is not long. We use processed meat and we eat very few types of meat. We also do not consider butchers as a vocation. They are people who slaughter or dress meat for the mass market”.
“In some parts of Japan,” continues Shimizu, “we have a rich culture of wild food and we eat wild meat when it becomes available. I also try to source non-game meat from different production areas”. This monthly event at Anis is suitably named MEATing.
Deer from Hokkaido, wild boars and bears from Nagano, or Hiyodori birds from Osaka take turns to appear on season-driven MEATing menus. “A lot of my diners are adventurous eaters. They usually have eaten all the meat in Japanese restaurants. They put their trust in me to experiment in my own ways. For example, I cook a block of bear meat by covering it with Katakuriko flour and boil in vegetable broth. For wild boars, I use Teppan to slow roast. Traditionally, these types of meat are thinly sliced and cooked Shabu Shabu style (simmered in broth)”.
“For an event like MEATing, I can also create more risky combinations, like pairing squab pigeon with abalone. I can also choose non-traditional cuts of beef. I like cooking chuck meat and thicker parts of sirloin, which contain less fat. People only think of beef in Japan as marbling beef that melts in the mouth. I prefer the meat with a chewy texture. The more I chew the more taste and flavor I can feel. It also gives me more time to enjoy”.
As Shimizu concludes, he carves the pheasant that has been on Teppan for about two hours. He serves it simply with roasted cauliflower. The pheasant itself is juicy and with a faint aroma of fig leaves. There is an extraordinary tenderness akin to what might be achieved from a sous-vide machine. However, this is natural and “modern” cooking that is born purely out of intense passion and years of experimentation.