If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to dine like a Japanese Emperor, now is your chance without having to impersonate one. From April 13 to 15, two special kaiseki menus will be served at Ginza Tenkuni, St Regis KL, by the executive chef of their main Tokyo outlet, Hideyuki Kikuchi.
Selected as the official chef of the Japanese Imperial Palace and an award-winning kirie master (the art of paper carving), Kikuchi san has created a one-of-a-kind-sure-to-please kaiseki meal in Kuala Lumpur. What’s kaiseki you may ask? Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner that is lauded as one of the finest forms of cuisine from The Land of the Rising Sun.
Kaiseki is sophisticated cuisine and is a culinary reflection of the Japanese seasons, incorporating many aspects of Japanese cooking to deliver a dining experience that entertains not just the palate but also all senses. Sitting down with veteran chef Kikuchi for a chat on the subject, he tells me that kaiseki is made to highlight the ingredients and feeling of a particular season. For example, spring and summer meals bring about refreshing and cooling dishes to rejuvenate the body, while autumn and winter showcase foods that energise and warms.
The road to becoming a great kaiseki chef is a long and tough one, as they have to learn many sides of Japanese cooking. “When I wanted to learn about sushi, my teacher told me to go to a sushi restaurant. When I wanted to learn about soba noodles, he told me to go to a soba restaurant,” says Kikuchi. “The most important thing I learned during my training was that there are no shortcuts. I had to learn all my skills step-by-step ,” he explains.
“People eat kaiseki because they want to feel the season. We usually use ingredients that reflect a particular season before the actual season arrives, giving you a preview of the change to come,” says Kikuchi.
Not only does the food reflect this, but so too do the plates that the food arrives in, the way the food are decorated and served, the restaurant’s furnishings, the kimono the staff uses, as well as the flowers, paintings or even scrolls that adorn the restaurant. Everything is carefully prepared to evoke the coming of the season, one new monthly menu at the time.
To immerse a diner in the sensations of the season through a menu is no easy feat. To create such a menu, Chef Kikuchi observes and absorbs the environment and his surroundings when he walks around town, observes other restaurants, engages in discussion with his chef friends and has developed a good relationship with his suppliers, giving him insights whenever the season for prime ingredients pop up.
As Malaysia doesn’t experience four seasons, curious diners and connoisseurs of food can now be temporarily whisked away to experience the beauty of spring the Japanese way through two menus: washoku and kaiseki. The former focuses on delicious tempura the restaurant is well known for and the latter featuring more styles of Japanese cuisine.