A patriotic chef: Expressing the richness of Japan through cuisine.

Seiji Yamamoto

Ryugin Seiji Yamamoto

Shocked at an international gastronomic conference. “Starting this moment, I will change myself.”

A crucial turning point came for Mr. Yamamoto a year after opening RyuGin. This was on November of 2004 at the gastronomic conference known as Gastronomika, held in San Sebastián, Spain. Relying on his knife skills, he participated in the event after being told that he should go and represent Japan by Ms. Kimura at Shibata Shoten, a publisher of culinary arts books.

The “World Cuisine Academic Meeting” has been held in Japan since 2009, but at that time no one was talking about such a thing.

Mr. Yamamoto
That’s right. I participated casually, with curiosity for a conference on the academic side of gastronomy as well as a desire to go somewhere where chefs from around the world were gathering. By the time it ended I thought that every owner-chef in the world should go to attend the conference even if they have to close their restaurants to do it.

Why did you feel so strongly?

Mr. Yamamoto
You learn a lot from experiencing all the advanced techniques shown there, but what really hit me was the awareness of how many young chefs there were. On the presentation stage, full of pride, I demonstrated the techniques used to prepare traditional Japanese cuisine. These were techniques I had honed, yet people were asking me, “Why do you use that technique?” “Did you come up with that?” I was absolutely stunned. I had grown up in a world where all these techniques were common sense. You were just told to do it that way and you would be reprimanded for doing it any other sort of way. After all, Japanese cuisine was not something you were to question. Yet there were all those participants from around the world who were totally different. Chefs younger than I were standing in front of crowds of people presenting techniques they felt were logical. Not a single person was reading a textbook. I was shocked.

I had the sense that we need to do something to the world we’re living in right now. When I thought about the number of chefs in Japan who share that sensibility, I had the inkling that it showed the gap between Japan and the rest of the world. If Japanese cuisine could only be discussed in terms of history or tradition, then there was no point for me to prepare it. I had a strong feeling that I needed to change myself right then, at that very moment.

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