Yoshihiro Narisawa’s food is all about reconnecting us with nature. The Tokyo-based chef’s French-inspired cuisine has won two Michelin stars and been voted Best Restaurant in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. His unique brand of ‘innovative Satoyama’ cuisine has made a table at his Narisawa restaurant in Minami-Aoyama one of the most sought after in Japan. But most important to the chef is the urgent requirement to protect and preserve our natural environment. As such, his dishes are thought-provoking expression of the fields, forests, mountains and waters of Japan that resonate with the wider world.
Narisawa’s father and uncle owned a bakery and tea salon, and he used to enjoy watching them spread happiness with their simple wares. His burning ambition to become a chef eventually drove him to Europe at the age of 19. He spent eight years working in some of the toughest kitchens in Switzerland, Italy and France, including those of Frédy Girardet, Paul Bocuse and Joël Robuchon. Inspired further by the likes of Alain Ducasse, Michel Bras and Pierre Gagnaire, the young Narisawa grew to admire chefs that created unique ‘nouvelle cuisine’ with local ingredients.
Armed with the idea of expressing his own personality and the character of a region through it terroir, he returned to Japan and opened his first French-inspired restaurant, La Napoule, in Kanagawa prefecture. But it wasn’t until he opened his second restaurant, Les Creations de Narisawa, that he really began to develop his cooking philosophy.
What Narisawa calls ‘innovative Satoyama’ is about the relationship between people and the land. In Japanese, Satoyama refers to the areas of human habitation between grasslands and mountain foothills, where biological diversity is rife. Narisawa draws inspiration from simply being in these regions, collecting his thoughts and feelings, and allowing his ideas to spring from the natural environment and the seasons. Sustainability and responsibility are at the core of his concept, but it all amounts to nothing if the food is not delicious. Thankfully, it is.
His ‘Bread of the Forest’ places a moist dough mixture into warm water that is gently heated at the table by candle light. The natural forest yeast causes the dough to gradually prove and rise, at which point it is transferred to a heated stone pot nestled on a bed of twigs, where the bread slowly cooks. Another striking dish is the Soil Soup, made with actual soil, burdoch root and water. The soil is filtered so that the essence of the minerals remains present in the dish. One of Narisawa’s most luxurious dishes is his Hida wagyu beef rump roast, which is encased in a powder of carbonised leek to give it the appearance of a lump of charcoal. Everything is strongly reminiscent of nature, wildly unconventional but surprisingly tasty too.
Narisawa the restaurant received two Michelin stars and was voted the Best Restaurant in Asia in 2013, while the chef himself was honoured with the Chef’s Choice award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2018. But Narisawa’s quest is not to add more accolades to his collection. His search continues to discover more about his local environment, the seasons and the natural larder, and how to preserve it for future generations.
His commitment to using organic, wild and foraged ingredients frequently takes him out into the wilderness, where he will spend hours searching for herbs, plants, twigs and soil. There is no on-site farm at Narisawa, but the chef keeps a close relationship with farmers and foragers to ensure his menu reflects the seasons. His intention is for guests to ‘fall under the spell of the season’ and to ‘absorb life itself’.
Those who dine at Narisawa frequently hail its life-affirming qualities. But for Yoshihiro Narisawa, it is the life of the planet that matters most. The ingredients are everything, and his recipes are a way of conveying that message - with maximum deliciousness, of course.