Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Master Chef Kitchen Tasting

Soup featuring dashi, abalone, asparagus, onsen egg and truffles
This afternoon I was lucky to go into the kitchen to watch a Japanese guest chef whose restaurant has two Michelin stars, cook dashi, a stock of kombu or kelp with bonito flakes, from aged tuna.

On the stove was a pot with some water and a very large, thick chunk of kelp. Chef Takagi Kazuo let it simmer for a while before I arrived, and he let me taste it and it was a very weak flavour.

Kelp simmering over the hot stove to extract the flavours
After a few more minutes, he got a big bag of bonito flakes -- they aren't shaved very thinly but instead a bit thicker, and threw two handfuls into the pot. After another minute or two he strained it and let me try the soup again. This time it had lots of umami flavour, and the aroma was a bit smoky too.

The rest of the plate was being constructed on the side -- chunks of abalone that were perfectly steamed and meaty, together with chopped asparagus, an onsen egg, and then garnished with truffle slices.

Finally the dashi was poured into the dish and every spoonful was delicate, succulent and light.

Chef Takagi Kazuo uses bonito flakes in dashi
Takagi explains that while he uses western ingredients in his dishes, they are inherently Japanese, in this case the dashi is the star. He adds that while the dashi takes about 30 minutes to make, it takes over three years to get the kombu and over a year for the bonito flakes.

It is his recognition of how it isn't easy to not only procure the best ingredients, but also that he doesn't put himself before them, that he needs them in order to make the best dishes possible.

This humbleness and passion is probably what makes Takagi's restaurant, Kyoto Cuisine Takagi in Ashiya, a city between Kobe and Kyoto, worth two Michelin stars since 2010.

He says he can cook with ingredients from anywhere, but he must have his kombu and bonito flakes that he brings with him everywhere in order to make dashi.

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