The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores TOKIMEITĒ
Flagship Restaurant Featuring Creative Japanese Kaiseki Cuisine Supervised by a Long-established Restaurant in Kyoto
London / UK
“Amusement park” of Japanese cuisine
Tokimeitē is a Japanese restaurant in Mayfair, a prime location in London. It was opened in 2015 by Zen-Noh (the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Association in Japan) as its flagship restaurant aimed at spreading Japanese cuisine around the world, under the supervision of Mr. Yoshihiro Murata, the third owner and chef of Kikunoi, a long-established Japanese restaurant based in Kyoto. The executive chef of Tokimeitē is Mr. Daisuke Hayashi, who studied cooking under Mr. Murata and worked as sous-chef of Akasaka Kikunoi in Tokyo.
The restaurant’s interior design, created by the internationally renowned designer Yasumichi Morita, represents cheerful and brilliant festive space and time inspired by Japanese festivals. With a lively open kitchen as a prominent feature, the first floor is designed to be a sublime and gorgeous space associated with “fire” for grilling meat. With private dining rooms, the second floor is designed to be a dignified, calm space associated with “wood” and “water.” The innovative interior design is intended to make the restaurant an “amusement park” of Japanese cuisine.
Basically adopting a kappo style, wherein dishes are cooked in front of guests and served just when they are finished, the restaurant serves original Japanese kaiseki meals (multi-course meals derived from the tea ceremony tradition) made with plenty of high-quality Japanese-grown ingredients, including Wagyu beef and vegetables. The restaurant also boasts a wide lineup of beverages. Dozens of brands of sake are always ready to be served, with some brands replaced according to the season. Japanese-made whiskey is also highly regarded by Londoners for its excellent taste and quality, proving its brand value. Original alcohol beverages developed by Zen-Noh, including rice-based cucumber gin and rice beer, have also met with a good reputation. A project to develop gluten-free products is also being planned.
Proposing new styles of savoring Wagyu beef with a view to exploring a new market
Tokimeitē, run by Zen-Noh, Japan’s nationwide agricultural cooperative, embraces the concept of “having European people enjoy Wagyu, a specialty food of Japan.” A general British way of cooking beef is grilling often-used parts, such as sirloin, to make steak. Other parts of beef, such as shoulder and rump, contain sinewy meat, so they would be difficult for ordinary chefs to cook or use for steak. By contrast, at Tokimeitē, such various parts of beef are used for dishes loved by Europeans, including not only steak but also hamburger, sausage, tartar steak, and nigiri-zushi, through Mr. Hayashi’s skills and creativity. As a result, Tokimeitē is among the restaurants that boast the widest lineups of Wagyu dishes.
Restaurant manager Sakai says, “If you can only use sirloin from a head of cattle, all other parts of beef will be abandoned in vain. We strive to explore a new market for such parts of beef.” The restaurant aims to devote further energy to exploring a market for Wagyu beef in the UK, as well as winning greater recognition for new styles of savoring it.
Creative touches fascinating gourmands from around the world
Mr. Hayashi states, “I will neither force local people to have Japanese cuisine as it is nor overly modify it as fusion cuisine does.” He explains that, while valuing the tradition of Japanese cuisine and the original flavors of ingredients, he adds creative touches to Japanese dishes so that local guests can enjoy them. For example, Wagyu beef sukiyaki is made with steak meat cooked at low temperature. It is served in a creative style with hollandaise sauce made with yolk, truffe and broth, in place of raw egg, which is a staple accompaniment to sukiyaki but Europeans are not accustomed to eating. Such efforts of the restaurant have resulted in the high reputation of Wagyu beef, which is priced manyfold compared with Angus beef produced in the UK, among regular high-end guests from around the world, including not only Europe but also Russia and the Middle East.
Mr. Hayashi says, “I feel that our guests here outside Japan have developed their palates year by year. I believe that this is probably because the activities of Japanese chefs have inspired an increasing number of people to become interested in Japanese food and visit Japan. That’s why we have to spread the authentic flavors of Japanese cuisine.”
Branding unique local specialties from Japan and launching them into global markets
“Our guests say that Japanese-grown vegetables and fruits are the best in the world. They are amazed at the very sweet flavors of apples and sweet potatoes from Japan,” Mr. Hayashi states. The restaurant purchases most vegetables, excluding easily bruised green vegetables, and root crops, including burdocks, sweet potatoes, lotus roots, and green onions, from Japan. The executive chef says that burdocks and sweet potatoes sold at markets in the UK are weak in both aroma and flavor and far different from Japanese-grown high-quality vegetables.
The restaurant staff also devote efforts to introducing European guests to Japanese-produced ingredients by showing the guests vegetables before cooking and explaining about their seasons and origins. Every time a “daily special” menu featuring dishes made with recommended ingredients that have just arrived is posted on a board, many guests order such dishes, saying, “I want to try ingredients that I’m unfamiliar with.” Such “daily special” dishes served at the restaurant have generally been accepted favorably.
However, since only a small number of restaurants currently serve dishes made with vegetables grown in Japan, Mr. Hayashi believes that he must make further efforts to win full recognition for Japanese vegetables from a wider range of people. He says, “Many unique local specialties from Japan have not yet been known by European people. I believe that we as cooks have a mission to create a favorable environment for such specialty products to enter global markets.” On the occasions of area-focused sales promotion fairs held by Zen-Noh, Mr. Hayashi regularly devises recipes for dishes made with the local specialties of such areas. He is planning to adopt a branding strategy featuring particular areas in Japan. Kyoto-grown vegetables have been featured only on the occasion of sales promotion fairs, but Mr. Hayashi states, “From the perspective of a cook working in the forefront, I want to have many more opportunities to introduce Kyoto-grown vegetables.”
Hoping to share the charms of Japanese cuisine and liven up agriculture in Japan
In 2013, “Washoku, traditional dietary tradition of the Japanese” was inscribed in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This means that Japanese cuisine was officially recognized as “culture” for the first time. Mr. Hayashi states, “Japan has a law titled the ‘Act on Culture and the Arts,’ which approves tea ceremonies and Japanese flower arrangement as elements of ‘culture’ but does not approve Japanese cuisine so. However, the selfless efforts of Japanese chefs senior to me, including Mr. Yoshihiro Murata, have resulted in the inscription of Japanese culinary culture in the UNECO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Therefore, I believe that it is important for us to proudly share the charms of Japanese foods and Japanese cuisine with people outside Japan.”
He also strives to foster British chefs of Japanese cuisine by holding seminars and workshops at the nonprofit Japanese Culinary Academy UK. Such passionate enthusiasm of his has provided great inspiration for the staff of Tokimeitē, one of whom, a non-Japanese chef, has taken first place in the Europe division of the Japanese Culinary Arts Competition held by the Japanese Culinary Academy. “Japanese cuisine will be no longer spread unless non-Japanese chefs working outside Japan study about Japanese foods and learn Japanese cooking techniques. I hope that chefs outside Japan will make all-out efforts to increase their skills in friendly rivalry and raise the level of the entire Japanese culinary world,” Mr. Hayashi says.
He hopes so because he is concerned that the Japanese agricultural and livestock industries will decline unless he and his colleagues work to obtain greater recognition for Japanese cuisine from people outside Japan and more actively promote Japanese-produced foods abroad. In Europe, where the recognition and market size for Japanese-produced foods, and their distribution have not yet reached a sufficient level, all Tokimeitē staff unite their efforts to, as the first step, share information with local people and raise their awareness of Japanese foods.