Chef Feature: Yoshihiro Narisawa

by Heather Sperling
Heather Sperling
May 2009

It’s clear from the name that Les Créations des Narisawa is as French as it is Japanese. And it’s clear from the space, a sleek cube of a restaurant—not a tatami mat in sight—with dramatic lighting and glass walls that reveal nearly every inch of the shining silver kitchen, that chef Yoshihiro Narisawa’s restaurant is as modern as they come.

For all of Tokyo’s bright lights and buzzing electronics, the majority of the city’s restaurants remain rooted in traditionalism. Sure, burger and spaghetti chains litter downtown corners, and there are patisseries to rival France’s best. But the fine dining field is dominated by high-end sushi and kaiseki restaurants. Save for a few examples, Narisawa being one, modern food is found in the stylized dining rooms of big-name foreign chefs’ restaurants (the likes of Joel Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire, and Bruno Menard).

When asked about other native chefs who are modernizing the cuisine, Narisawa could think only of Seiji Yamamoto, whose Roppongoi restaurant, RyuGin, is known for a technique-driven, and occasionally quirky, interpretation of modern Japanese cuisine. “Not many people who are based in Japan are looking beyond Japanese borders,” he says. And some of the world’s well-known Japanese chefs—Nobu and Morimoto not least among them—left to create modern Japanese food on foreign soil.

Narisawa is one of the few who left and then returned. He worked his way through Europe, spending time in the kitchens of Joel Robuchon, Fredy Girardet, and Paul Bocuse. The nouvelle cuisine training left its mark on a technical level, and his sleek, modern kitchen has a rotary evaporator proudly on display—distilling the essence of wasabi while we were there. But the philosophy behind his food is distinctly Japanese.

Like in kaiseki cuisine, his dishes revolve around the season’s best, and many mimic nature. In one, called “Landscape of February,” the winter’s last snow (represented by grated turnip) melts off small rocks (buckwheat risotto), revealing small bits of green (tempura-fried buds of fukinoto—one of the first plants to push through the spring earth).

His devotion to ingredients—seeking out organic produce and using every part (like spinach roots, which were a delicious complement to ash-coated Matsuzaka beef)—is markedly Japanese. As is the way each ingredient has meaning, each dish has a story, and each composition has a theme. The service style, the toques in the kitchen, the red wine jus that garnish beef and squab are clearly French. The resulting fusion is distinctly Narisawa. We left his restaurant energized, and excited about the future of modern Japanese cuisine.

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