Cover Photo: All smiles from the panel: Don Gabor, Michael Anthony, Saori Kawano, Marcus Samuelsson and Japan Society President Motoatsu Sakurai © WhereNYC
Bottom Line: “You don’t have to fully understand something to love it,” Marcus Samuelsson explained what most outsiders miss when trying to “figure out Japanese culture.” There is a beauty that lies in the unknown, but for Marcus and fellow panelists Michael Anthony, head chef at the Gramercy Tavern and Saori Kawano, owner of Korin knives in Tribeca, Japanese culture and its cuisine have in many ways defined their careers. Here at the final installment of the Talks+ series, the three sat down with moderator Don Gabor.
Review: Marcus Samuelsson said many outside of Japan just don’t get Japanese culture, and yet it has influenced many chefs in the West. Michael Anthony, executive chef at the Gramercy Tavern and who studied both French and Japanese, took a more unorthodox route and began his stage in Japan, under the guidance of Shizuyo Shima. It was this decision to train in Japan that defined his cooking philosophy of precision, dedication and passion.
Although a distant land, Japan’s influence on Western cuisine and American chefs has rapidly increased over the years, thanks in part to increased trade and interaction. No one is more aware of this than Saori Kawano, who started Korin in Tribeca during the 1980s when Japanese food was unheard of, and began supplying knives and kitchenware to Japanese restaurants in New York. But as interest grew and more high end Japanese restaurants began appearing, American chefs also began taking interest in Japanese products and applying similar cooking techniques to Western cuisine.
Perhaps many in the West, according to Marcus, may still not fully comprehend Japan and its unique culture, but the Japanese seem to “get” French gastronomy and are among the top chefs of French cuisine. Samuelsson, who trained in Switzerland, said that the Japanese chefs were the best. “They were even better than the French at French cuisine!” he joked. The philosophy of respect for ingredients, precision, dedication and no waste is as much a part of French gastronomy as it is Japanese. And Western cuisine is incredibly popular in Japan, where chefs are now producing top end French, Italian and even Indian cuisine.
In Japanese gastronomy, the total respect for ingredients and nothing-goes-to-waste philosophy go straight to the heart of Japanese food culture, which has often baffled many outside of Japan. Here in Western countries, we often think that the Japanese have very complex notions of discipline, dedication and respect. For the Japanese, respect for ingredients may enshrined into Shinto religious traditions, as Saori Kawano mentioned during the Q&A, but this deference may have more to do with being an island nation.
To this day, Samuelsson, Anthony and Kawano still look to Japan for new inspiration and continue to share their experience of Japanese culture with other Americans in the industry. Saori Kawano founded the Gohan Society, which is to fosters culinary exchanges between Western and Japanese chefs. Kawano also co-authored Chef’s Choice with Don Gabor, a compilation of 22 chefs who discuss their love of Japanese cuisine. And in 2016, Michael Anthony won a James Beard award for his cookbook V Is for Vegetables, which drew inspiration from his stint in Japan years ago.
Although the Talks+ series has been a huge success, I think they could have included some food samples. All this talk about food and nothing to eat irked me a bit. The book signing of Chef’s Choice was a great idea, but it was thatV Is for Vegetables wasn’t available for purchase. Oh well, time to go on Amazon.
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