The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores TORISHIN
Bringing real Yakitori to the world through commitment to ingredients and recipes.
New York / USA
Yakitori at the center of the world
The full-fledged yakitori specialty shop "Torishin", the only one of its kind to use Kishu Bincho charcoal in New York, opened in 2006. Initially, the restaurant was located in the wealthy residential area of the Upper East Side, moved to downtown area close to Midtown's Times Square 9 years ago. There are offices of Japanese companies nearby, and it is a suitable location to attract three types of customers – New Yorkers, tourists and business people. The interior of this "Modern Wa (Japan)" restaurant is built with Shiraki wood, consists of 3 floors, and features a total of 70 seats. The main counter seating in the semi-underground level showcases views of a Tsubo Garden through the open kitchen, and is reminiscent of a small vendor in Kyoto's Gion district.
Chef Mr. Atsushi Kono's family owns a fish restaurant. After studying Japanese cuisine in Kyoto, he was appointed to launch Torishin and thus moved to New York. Since then, he has unfailingly spearheaded both the cooking and management. "As far as Kyoto cuisine is concerned, the casual-style food of ‘yakitori' is relatively uncharted territory. At first I was a little surprised, but it reveals such depth when you try it. Now I think of yakitori as Japanese cuisine," says the chef. Because of its pursuit of unique ingredients and recipes, the restaurant's reputation is among the highest in the city. The restaurant has also been honored with one Michelin star for seven consecutive years since 2012.
The significance of traditional charcoal grilling
"At first sight, grilling looks like something that anyone can do, but in fact only a veteran shokunin (craftsman) can manage the fine adjustment of the temperature and use of the uchiwa (Japanese fan)," says Chef Kono. That's why perhaps the one thing that the restaurant cares more about than the cooking is the use of the Bincho charcoal. "The finest quality Bincho charcoal from Kishu (Wakayama Prefecture) has thermal power and sustainability not found in other kinds of charcoal. Even if you grill it to ‘medium-rare', which is crispy on the outside and close to raw in the center, heat spreads through to the inner part of the chicken and gives it a very pleasant texture," said the chef as his eyes beamed.
One of the biggest selling points of the restaurant is how its shokunin uses Kishu Bincho charcoal while grilling with the utmost care and skill, inspiring every diner's devotion with the resulting flavors and the faint smell of charcoal. It is said that many New Yorkers are now addicted to the way of yakitori, after learning the essence of it at Torishin, as well as eating at and comparing with other restaurants.
Japanese ingredients that support flavors
In order to provide the best yakitori, the store focuses on using ingredients from Japan. The main ingredient of chicken meat is limited to US domestic, due to import regulations, but is still of a quality that would rival that of Japan. The majority of seasonings used to make yakitori taste delicious, however, are made in Japan. The kombu is from Hokkaido. The bonito is from Kyushu. Sea salt from Okinawa is used as the ever-important finishing salt. There are also many other Japanese products, such as appetizer and intermezzo dishes, that complement yakitori. In particular, for the Yakitori Culinary Course that is served at the small 8-seat counter on the first floor, the fish (for example: isaki, hotaru-ika, iidako, uni, sayori, nodogoro, etc.) are all from Japan. "Everything about Japanese fish, from their oils to the freshness, is always high quality – even for large orders. Even if it takes a few days to arrive by air, the freshness never diminishes," says Chef Kono.
In the early spring, dishes that can't be tasted elsewhere, such as charcoal grilled bamboo shoots from Kumamoto, are served. Speaking of indispensable vegetable ingredients, one in particular is hon-wasabi from Shizuoka Prefecture. Grown over 3 to 4 years, it offers the so-called refreshing sensation of wasabi, along with a deep sweetness. It wouldn't be fair to compare American products to it. For one of the recommended items, the ‘sabi-yaki', the finest sasami is grilled to a perfect medium rare, and then served only with salt and hon-wasabi. "Wasabi complements the sweetness of the chicken. When coupled with the sweetness of the wasabi, sweetness lingers in the mouth. It is exceptionally delicious to then chase it with Japanese sake," says Chef Kono. It is widely recognized that the significance for Japanese cuisine lies in being able to take the innate flavor of an ingredient and bring it to its fullest potential.
What kind of Japanese ingredients do you want most right now?
For the chef, Japanese chicken is currently the most wanted ingredient. Although obtaining any may still be years away due to legal issues, it is not simply a dream because import bans on Wagyu, for example, have already been lifted. "I'd like to use Date chicken, Hinai chicken, Nagoya Cochin, etc. It would be interesting to eat them side by side with American chicken and compare and contrast. The dialogue about yakitori will further deepen. When that time comes, the level of chicken cookery around the world will surely rise."
It is said that sake from Niigata Prefecture is popular amongst fans of yakitori. Kubota, Kirinzan, Midorikawa, Hachihama and others are stocked. Although pure rice Daiginjo stand at center, Chef Kono believes that sake with a fuller body is better suited for yakitori. "For example, at our restaurant, we recommend Tengumai from Ishikawa Prefecture. Although it is a richer sake with a yellowish tint, this is best for when you're serving tsukune (chicken meatballs) as you approach the end of the course. Year after year, New Yorkers have seemed to have learned the pleasure of pairing and experimenting when matching alcohol to food. There are some very knowledgeable people here." The Yakitori world of New York progresses day by day. Soon may come the day when Japanese chickens fly down into Times Square.