At L'effervesence in Tokyo (95 in The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2016), two Michelin star chef Shinobu Namae combines Japanese flavours with European methods, with stuning results. At the end of each meal green matcha tea is made tableside for every guest.
The tea ceremony is at the heart of Japanese hospitality and part of any 'kaiseki' (multi–course meal), and in this next episode of CNN's Culinary Journeys series, Namae visits producers of some of the finest matcha in the world on the ouskirts of Kyoto, takes kaiseki, heads to to an over 300–year–old sake brewery and finally, prepares onigiri (rice ball), a childhood favourite, for friends.
We spoke to Namae ahead of the show's airing. Watch the show in three parts below.
Tell us about the culinary journey you decided to take?
Through the journey, I wanted to capture unique Japanese characteristics of hospitality, made up from historical background, environment and landscape (nature, mountain, water, rice, tea) and craftsmanship (kaiseki chef, okami, tea master, tea blender, sake brewer).
What was the highlight of the journey?
Highlights were everywhere actually … it’s too hard to distinguish, but I would say each person I [met] cares not only about the detail of their craft itself, but also much more about the people who he/she encounters and serve his/her crafts. That warm-hearted craftsmanship is the basis of a unique atmosphere in Japan. Once you touch these feelings, you feel as if you are treated especially well everywhere.
Tell us about the importance of tea in Japanese food culture and Japanese culture at large?
If you share a bowl of thick tea together with other guests, your relationship becomes closer to them, much more than before you met at a tea ceremony. It has a magic power. The tea makes the people unite into a whole. So all these aesthetics of kaiseki cuisine originally aimed to have the greatest ending of the tea tasting.
Has it been interesting to watch the popularity of matcha grow worldwide in recent years?
Yes. I believe it can be even more diverse. Matcha tonic is my favourite now!
You enjoy onigiri, a favourite food of your childhood with friends in one scene – tell us about this dish and why it’s important to you.
This is very ordinary food to share with someone, especially outside of the house at a special event or excursion. I used to have it in my childhood, when I was playing football every weekend. My mum made onigiri for my lunch. Every mum has their own way of folding, garnishing into this ball of steamed rice, and you never know what’s inside it until you have a bite into it. It is a very satisfying food physically and mentally; to exchange the onigiri with someone is so much fun – to discover the new deliciousness with each other.
If we gave you a blank cheque, where would your dream culinary journey take you and what would you do there?
Ethiopea. The starting point of “The great journey of human being”. I believe I can find something very important in Ethiopia, a country of many tribes. And I am very interested in an eating custom called “Gursha,” which is basically not eating food by yourself, but grabbing some food and feeding everyone. It is the act of friendship and love to make it stronger. And great coffee too.
Culinary Journeys airs on CNN International at the times below:
Friday 19 August at 0430 BST
Saturday 20 August at 0530 and 1630 BST
Saturday 27 August at 1230 BST
Sunday 28 August at 0530 BST