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The art of Kaiseki

by: Chef Tim Tibbits

Food For Thought


On Monday February 24 the Flying Fish Supper Club series continues as we take a stab at true Japanese Kaiseki style dining.  I love cooking this way and I’m excited to bring this style of dining to Freeport.  I’m quite sure there’s been nothing like it here before so I always get extra excited about doing something no one has ever done here.  You might be interested but don’t want to commit to something you don’t know?  

Well, let me do my best to try to explain it for you and convince you that this is really the way to eat great food.

The kanji characters ?? used to write kaiseki literally mean “stone in the bosom.” These kanji are thought to have been incorporated by Sen no Rikyu (1522–91), to indicate the frugal meal served in the austere style of chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony). The idea came from the practice where Zen monks would ward off hunger by putting warm stones into the front folds of their robes, near their bellies. 

Before these kanji started to be used, the kanji for writing the word were simply ones indicating that the cuisine was for a get-together (????).  Both sets of kanji remain in use today to write the word; the authoritative Japanese dictionary Kojien describes the “cuisine for a get-together” as a banquet meal where the main beverage is sake (Japanese rice wine), and the “bosom-stone” cuisine as the simple meal served in chanoyu. To distinguish between the two in speech and if necessary in writing, the chanoyu meal may be referred to as “tea” kaiseki, or cha-kaiseki. 

Modern kaiseki draws on a number of traditional Japanese haute cuisines, notably the following FOUR traditions: imperial court cuisine (???? yusoku ryori?), from the 9th century in the Heian period; Buddhist cuisine of temples (???? shojin ryori?), from the 12th century in the Kamakura period; samurai cuisine of warrior households (???? honzen ryori?), from the 14th century in the Muromachi period; and tea ceremony cuisine (??? cha kaiseki?), from the 15th century in the Higashiyama period of the Muromachi period. All of these individual cuisines were formalized and developed over time, and continue in some form to the present day, but have also been incorporated into kaiseki cuisine. Different chefs weigh these differently – court and samurai cuisine are more ornate, while temple and tea ceremony cuisine are more restrained.

In the present day, kaiseki is a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food. To this end, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor. Local ingredients are often included as well.  

Finished dishes are carefully presented on plates that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals.

Originally, kaiseki comprised a bowl of miso soup and three side dishes; this is now instead the standard form of Japanese-style cuisine generally, referred to as a ??? (setto, “set”). Kaiseki has since evolved to include an appetizer, sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish, and a steamed course, in addition to other dishes at the discretion of the chef.  A total Kaiseki meal can be 20 courses or more.

Here is a sample of the course structure of a traditional kaiseki meal:

Sakizuke (???): an appetizer similar to the French amuse-bouche.

Hassun (???): the 2nd course, which sets the seasonal theme. Typically 1 kind of sushi and several smaller side dishes.

Mukozuke (???): a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi.

Takiawase (???): vegetables served with meat, fish or tofu; the ingredients are simmered separately.

Futamono (???): a “lidded dish;” typically a soup.On Monday February 24 the Flying Fish Supper Club series continues as we take a stab at true Japanese Kaiseki style dining.  I love cooking this way and I’m excited to bring this style of dining to Freeport.  I’m quite sure there’s been nothing like it here before so I always get extra excited about doing something no one has ever done here.  You might be interested but don’t want to commit to something you don’t know?  

Well, let me do my best to try to explain it for you and convince you that this is really the way to eat great food.

The kanji characters ?? used to write kaiseki literally mean “stone in the bosom.” These kanji are thought to have been incorporated by Sen no Rikyu (1522–91), to indicate the frugal meal served in the austere style of chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony). The idea came from the practice where Zen monks would ward off hunger by putting warm stones into the front folds of their robes, near their bellies. 

Before these kanji started to be used, the kanji for writing the word were simply ones indicating that the cuisine was for a get-together (????).  Both sets of kanji remain in use today to write the word; the authoritative Japanese dictionary Kojien describes the “cuisine for a get-together” as a banquet meal where the main beverage is sake (Japanese rice wine), and the “bosom-stone” cuisine as the simple meal served in chanoyu. To distinguish between the two in speech and if necessary in writing, the chanoyu meal may be referred to as “tea” kaiseki, or cha-kaiseki. 

Modern kaiseki draws on a number of traditional Japanese haute cuisines, notably the following FOUR traditions: imperial court cuisine (???? yusoku ryori?), from the 9th century in the Heian period; Buddhist cuisine of temples (???? shojin ryori?), from the 12th century in the Kamakura period; samurai cuisine of warrior households (???? honzen ryori?), from the 14th century in the Muromachi period; and tea ceremony cuisine (??? cha kaiseki?), from the 15th century in the Higashiyama period of the Muromachi period. All of these individual cuisines were formalized and developed over time, and continue in some form to the present day, but have also been incorporated into kaiseki cuisine. Different chefs weigh these differently – court and samurai cuisine are more ornate, while temple and tea ceremony cuisine are more restrained.

In the present day, kaiseki is a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food. To this end, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor. Local ingredients are often included as well.  

Finished dishes are carefully presented on plates that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals.

Originally, kaiseki comprised a bowl of miso soup and three side dishes; this is now instead the standard form of Japanese-style cuisine generally, referred to as a ??? (setto, “set”). Kaiseki has since evolved to include an appetizer, sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish, and a steamed course, in addition to other dishes at the discretion of the chef.  A total Kaiseki meal can be 20 courses or more.

Here is a sample of the course structure of a traditional kaiseki meal:

Sakizuke (???): an appetizer similar to the French amuse-bouche.

Hassun (???): the 2nd course, which sets the seasonal theme. Typically 1 kind of sushi and several smaller side dishes.

Mukozuke (???): a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi.

Takiawase (???): vegetables served with meat, fish or tofu; the ingredients are simmered separately.

Futamono (???): a “lidded dish;” typically a soup.

Yakimono (???): flame-broiled food (esp. fish);  earthenware, pottery, china.

Su-zakana (???): a small dish used to clean the palate, such as vegetables in vinegar; vinegared appetizer.

Hiyashi-bachi (????): served only in summer; chilled, lightly cooked vegetables.

Naka-choko (????): another palate-cleanser; may be a light, acidic soup.

Shiizakana (???): a substantial dish, such as a hot pot.

Gohan (???): a rice dish made with seasonal ingredients.

Ko no mono (????): seasonal pickled vegetables.

Tome-wan (???): a miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice.

Mizumono (???): a seasonal dessert; may be fruit, confection, ice cream, or cake.

Kaiseki is often very expensive – kaiseki dinners at top traditional restaurants generally cost from 15,000 yen to upwards of 40,000 per person (about U.S. $200 to $500 at recent exchange rates), without drinks. Cheaper options are available, notably lunch (from around 4,000 to 8,000 yen, (U.S. $50 to $100)), and in some circumstances bento (around 2,000 to 4,000 yen (U.S. $25 to $50)). In some cases counter seating is cheaper than private rooms. At ryokan (bed and breakfast style hotel rooms), the meals may be included in the price of the room or optional, and may be available only to guests, or served to the general public (some ryokan are now primarily restaurants). Traditional menu options offer three price levels, Sho Chiku Bai (traditional trio of pine, bamboo, and plum), with pine being most expensive, plum least expensive; this is still found at some restaurants.

Obviously, being in The Bahamas, our access to traditional ingredients will be difficult, and I may have to take some creative leeway with the Japanese original, but I always like to try and stay as close to the authentic experience as I possibly can.  We will be posting our menu soon so be sure to keep checking out our facebook page (www.facebook.com/flyingfishmodernseafood) to see exactly what we are preparing.  Just as a reminder, these events are always reservation only and due to the relatively long length of multi-course dining times the number of guests will be limited.  So if you are really interested in being at the very first Kaiseki dinner ever offered on Grand Bahama please call 373-4363 to make your reservations and hold your spot!

Published Friday, February 14, 2014

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