Recently my friend Michael Baxter - the Kyoto Foodie arranged an interview for me with Murata san - the proprietor/chef of the the Kikunoi Restaurant's in Kyoto. Murata san is a highly respected and extremely busy chef so I thought we'd be lucky if we scored 15 minutes with him but when we arrived, welcomed by a delivery of freshly whisked matcha with warabi mochi (traditional sweets), he advised, with a smile, that he was available for 2 hours.... We were rather taken aback by his generosity but soon relaxed into proceedings and, what I'd anticipated being a rather stilted and formal interview, transpired into one of the most inspiring conversations about Japanese food culture I could have wished for in Japan.
With Michael's help translating I was able to glean some wonderful insight into the foundations of Japanese cuisine and food culture from one of its masters! A third generation Kyoto chef. What an absolute honour.
Murata san is so proud of his country's cuisine and eager to share with foreigners in hope that a spiked interest elsewhere will bounce back to Japan. Murata san feels that Japanese youth are sadly no longer interested in their own unique and ancient traditions - preferring to immerse themselves as much as possible in popular culture from other countries. According to Murata san - it seems that if a Japanese product becomes popular outside of Japan it suddenly has a spotlight shone on it within Japan.
The chef was open and a little cheeky, sharp as a tack and allowed glimpses of his strong sense of humour to slip through his well poised presentation of self - all of which certainly helped brush aside the intimidation factor... leaving only respect for a man who, apart from running some of Japan's most successful Ryotei (high end restaurants serving Kaiseki cuisine) is also the founder of the Kyoto based Japanese Culinary Academy from which he maintains a platform for Japanese chefs to share information with each other, international chefs and food media.
In addition, and this was something that really grabbed at my heartstrings, is his dedication to educating school children about the roots of their own cuisine and healthy eating - going so far as to invite one mother, from each school they visit, to be trained by the Japanese Culinary Academy on traditional dishes, eating habits and nutrition in order to help spread the information to parents and students at other schools ( as the foundation are only able to get to one school per month). What a fantastic and essential initiative. My research over the last few years concurs that since the 70's (when foreign foods stated entering Japan at a great pace) many Japanese, under the age of 40, rarely cook at home and when they do - its often something very convenient or sadly not Japanese and the children are losing their connection to their astounding cuisine culture. His aim is to re-educate wherever possible.
I hope to learn much more from Murata san and his team in coming months and am honoured to be joining him again tomorrow afternoon for the next instalment... I promise to share soon.