Chef Isao Yamada of Brushstroke - Biography

New York, NY

August 2010
When he was 19 years old, Isao Yamada encountered a book called The Flowering Spirit of Kitcho Cuisine by the late Teiichi Yuki of acclaimed Japanese kaiseki restaurant group Kitcho. He was so moved by Yuki’s cuisine and sensitivity for the seasonal food culture of Japan that he quit college in order to enter the culinary world.

After studying the basics at Tsuji Cooking Academy in Osaka for one year, Yamada landed a job at the Kyoto outlet of Kitcho in 1995. There the young chef was trained in the seasonal philosophy of kaiseki cuisine and the art of the tea ceremony. Three years later, Yamada traveled with Hitoshi Ishihara, who had been the chef de cuisine at Kitcho, to work at the kaiseki restaurant at Ryotei Hanzuiryo Hotel in Nagasaki.

In 2000, at the age of 25, Yamada opened his own restaurant, Kaiseki Hanaei, in his hometown of Fukuoka. Surrounded by the sea and mountains, and rich in vegetables and seafood, Yamada had the opportunity to integrate the cuisine of the local Kyushu region with Kyoto culture. The restaurant was awarded three stars by a top gourmet magazine in Fukuoka in 2005.

Yamada was introduced to Chef David Bouley, who invited him to join his Japanese restaurant project. The prospect was exciting enough that Yamada closed Hanaei and moved to New York in 2006. He helped Bouley to open Bouley Evolution in Miami before joining Upstairs at Bouley in New York, where he was named a 2009 StarChefs.com New York Rising Star. Since then, he has embarked on a new kaiseki-themed project with Chef Bouley at Brushtroke. Here, Yamada applies his Japanese kaiseki training and philosophy to a cuisine that, among Bouley's projects, is the truest yet to fundamental kaiseki principles.