The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto
Japan’s tradition and culture is conveyed through Kaiseki cuisine and Japanese ingredients in Toronto, Canada
Toronto / Canada
Conveying the world of “Kaiseki” with persistence and faith
As a restaurant that practices traditional Japanese cuisine, Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto starts with ingredients imported directly from Japan and prepares them with care. But as the restaurant’s name, Yu (play), and zen (meal) hints at, diners enjoy Kaiseki cuisine with a unique spin.
We spoke with owner Masaki Hashimoto, who worked at Kaiseki restaurants in Japan before starting his first Japanese catering business in Mississauga, Canada in 1990 before opening a restaurant in the same location. In 2010, he relocated and opened Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto in the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, a hub of Japanese history and culture in Toronto. Here, customers experience authentic Kaiseki cuisine.
The only menu offered is one that is created with extraordinary sensibility.
At this restaurant that only serves one set menu, your meal opens with onjyakuzen (amuse bouche). Featured here is homemade sesame tofu, served with rice and white miso soup. Hashimoto explains its significance, “Because Canada is a multicultural country, the customers have various ethnic backgrounds and preferences. By paying attention to the customer’s reaction to the sesame tofu, we distinguish their preference and determine the preparation method and course lineup accordingly. For example, if a customer leaves the sesame tofu, which has an extremely soft taste, we may change the next course from its original stewed dish to something more textured like a deep-fried dish.” For the sashimi arrangement, called mukōzuke, wild madai (red sea breem) is imported from Kyūshū, where the difference in taste of the madai that transforms seasonally can be enjoyed throughout the year. Seasonal ingredients continue to define the dishes. The wan-mono (soup), for example, includes puréed edamame in summer. For the yaki-mono (a grilled dish) that follows, seasonal fresh fish (ayu – sweetfish, and hamo – Japanese Conger, during the summer) are imported from Japan and flavoured with salt. The course continues to the ni-mono (a stewed dish) which is prepared days in advance in order for the ingredients to be completely infused with flavor. Next, the shiizakana (his signature dish) includes a deep-fried dish and features Hashimoto’s daikon crane. The tomezen (seasoned rice) is seared Japanese wagyu served on rice, but instead of a traditional complimenting soup, somen or soba noodles are paired to express the season. Lastly, the kanmi (dessert) is an assorted platter of 6 or so different kinds of mostly homemade desserts. Some of the items included are a jelly dish, matcha kanten (Japanese gelatin), crafted fruit, and 4 different flavours of ice cream.
The menu delivered by Hashimoto is never a typical one. While the spirit of Kaiseki is always his starting point, Hashimoto infuses his own creative spin, with special emphasis placed on the season, the weather, and even the customer’s own preferences. His trust and passion towards Japanese ingredients is embodied in his comment, “If the meal is something that I can confidently recommend, I believe that my customers will enjoy it with the same confidence.”
The moment when people from Toronto’s diverse cultures come to understand the spirit of Kaiseki
“Customers who are new to Kaiseki cuisine are often surprised to learn that the restaurant is limited to a set menu. However, by the time we serve the wan-mono, we notice how drastically the customer’s demeanor has changed compared to when they first walked in. I believe that as they savour dishes one at a time, seated in a serene environment and enjoying a quiet conversation, this is when they can taste the natural umami of Japanese ingredients and finally grasp the spirit of Kaiseki.”
Selecting sake that pairs well with the restaurant’s cuisine
Hashimoto explains that sake, which uses rice as its main ingredient, pairs well with Kaiseki cuisine, which always begins with rice and ends with rice. His second son (Kei), who is a certified sake sommelier, visits sake breweries in Japan and exchanges ideas with importing companies to complete the restaurant’s sake selection. He selects the Japanese sake based on customer requests, course design, and seasonal ingredients selected for the menu.
The roots of a commitment to Japanese ingredients
Currently, 90% of the items used in Hashimoto’s menu are imported from Japan. The remaining 10% are mostly fruits and vegetables that are restricted from being imported into Canada. Throughout the year, the restaurant imports items such as fish and wagyu from Japan. During the summer season, the restaurant receives kamo eggplants, sudachi (a citrus fruit), yuzu, Japanese pepper sprouts and wasabi. Hashimoto explains the reason behind the high percentage of Japanese ingredients: “Back in the days when I was still in the catering business, I researched how to make delicious food using local ingredients. Compared to back then, the freshness of local fish and vegetables have gotten much better. However, today my desire to provide my customers with the same Japanese flavours from when I trained and worked in Japan has strengthened. By pursuing this desire, I strongly hope that I can convey Japanese traditions and culture through the world of food to my customers, and I thank Canada for making it possible to import these ingredients from Japan.”