Chef Masato Nishihara of Kajitsu - Biography

New York, NY

August 2010

Masato Nishihara is New York’s premier practitioner of shojin, a specialty Zen Buddhist culinary approach that is wholly seasonal and vegetarian. But like his deceptively modest restaurant Kajitsu in Manhattan’s East Village, Nishihara is too humble to make any such claims. “I believe that shojin cuisine embodies the spirit and the origin of all Japanese culinary categories,” he says, and he simply honors it with his own unwavering discipline and meticulous attention.

Although it’s his first exclusively shojin menu, Kajitsu isn’t Nishihara’s first foray into kaiseki—a prominent element of shojin cuisine. The chef worked for 10 years at Kitcho, one of the most well-regarded kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto. That the young chef devoted an entire decade to training in the seasonal ingredients and aesthetic beauty of traditional kaiseki is a reflection of both his own earnestness and exacting standards, as well as the complexity of kaiseki itself. While at Kitcho, Nishihara also learned the art of the tea ceremony and flower arrangement, both of which are integral elements of kaiseki, in which tranquility, beauty, and hospitality merge to enhance the food.

When Nishihara did eventually leave Kitcho, he worked for two years at Tohma, a kaiseki restaurant in Nagano that specializes in multi-course cuisine distinguished by handmade buckwheat soba noodles. With over a decade of diverse kaiseki training in Japan, Nishihara made the intrepid move to New York, eventually opening Kajitsu , where he devotes an entire menu to the principles of kaiseki and shojin cuisine specifically. One taste of his delicate but definitively executed dishes—compositional masterpieces of vegetarian seasonality—proves that Nishihara, a self-styled student of shojin, has achieved a level of mastery.