These words have flown out of Japan and are now familiar and loved by many people around the world as they are read in Japanese.
From 2009 to 2019, I worked for 10 years as a chef at the Ambassador's Residence in three cities in three countries: Vancouver, Canada; Beijing, China; and Paris, France, serving Japanese cuisine to guests from around the world.
What I felt strongly in Paris, where I worked most recently, was that the current trend in the culinary world is the pursuit of umami. When you get right down to it, umami is the simple taste of the ingredients themselves. So why umami now?
The reason can be summed up in one word: instinct. In other words, it is a fundamental desire that we all have.
A simple example is the local cuisine that has been handed down from generation to generation, and is loved by people of all ages. There is no need to explain why they are loved.
We simply and purely "like" them, and our bodies and brains demand them.
From 2016 to 2019, the official residence of the Japanese ambassador in Paris received many distinguished guests and VIPs. Actress Jane Birkin, from whom the world brand HERMES bags are derived, world-renowned pastry chef Pierre Hermé, and opinion leaders from the political and business world.
One of the Japanese foods that many of the invited guests praised with open arms was Hida beef.
C'est délicieux! (Very delicious!) Très bien!
Très bien! (Wonderful!) Très bien!
They were all praising it with enraptured, happy smiles.
Every time I received a compliment, there were two things I always thought about:
As a chef, I am honestly happy.
I want to visit the production site of Hida beef and feel the breath of the land with all my senses.
When I returned to Japan in December 2019, I went directly to Hida City in Gifu Prefecture, where Hida beef is produced, before deciding on a new place to live.
What I witnessed there was a rich symbiosis between the producers and the natural creatures that live in the deep, snowy region.
Vegetable farmers, rice farmers, and farmers who raise Hida beef.
All of them have dazzling smiles on their faces, even though they live in an extremely cold and snowy region.
Before visiting the Hida beef breeding site, we stopped by a field and were surprised to see the taste of red turnips and carrots buried in the snow. The taste was incredibly rich.
Mr. Kira, a vegetable farmer, told us:
"It never gets below zero in the soil," he says. "The snow covers them and protects them from sub-zero temperatures."
In other words, the snow acts as a natural quilt to help them survive the winter.
Until the snow melts in the spring, they take a long time in the soil to accumulate power.
That's why Hida's vegetables are so delicious and full of flavor.
Mr. Gamo, a Hida beef producer who raises a new brand of beef called Hime-gyu*, which is now attracting attention both in Japan and abroad, told us.
The snow that melts in the spring turns into a large amount of water, which gradually joins the springs in various places to form rivers, and becomes the water of life that moistens the crops in the fields and rice paddies of the town. The children we are raising need about 10 liters of drinking water a day. Melting snow is an important blessing from nature that helps to sustain their lives.
The excrement they produce as they grow up is heat-treated and turned into compost, which becomes the foundation for rich and fertile soil. Here in Hida, there is a good model of the sustainable society and recycling-oriented agriculture that the earth needs today. There are countless stimuli and lessons to be gained through the five senses when visiting this land. And just as importantly, we can learn from the producers. They call the vegetables, rice, and cows that they grow "this child".
They are close to nature, grateful for nature's blessings, and love the creatures they produce. This attitude is worthy of sincere respect. Hida is a place where you can learn the most important qualities and attitude as a chef. I am grateful for the blessings of nature and the tireless daily efforts of the producers, and I accept these blessings when I cook. We draw out the flavor of the ingredients and deliver the dishes with all our heart to the customers.
The smiles and words of "Delicious! create a new cycle of happiness.
Hida's rich ingredients bring smiles to people all over the world.
I am proud and happy to be a part of this cycle as a chef.
*Hime-gyu: A cow that has been fattened by feeding powdered sake lees and shaved rice, which are by-products of sake brewing at local sake breweries.
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