The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores YAMAZATO
Fine Dining Restaurant at a Five-Star Hotel
Procures Seasonal Ingredients from All Over Japan
Bangkok / Thailand
It is easy to get ingredients from Japan in Bangkok
“The Okura Prestige Bangkok” is a hotel facing a main street lined with trees and foreign embassies. Restaurant “Yamazato,” which offers authentic Japanese cuisine and a stunning city view spreading out before the customers’ eyes, and which continues to attract domestic and international VIPs, is one of the prominent restaurants in Thailand.
Mr. Shigeru Hagiwara, the master chef, has been working at Hotel Okura since he started his cooking career at the age of 18. He has improved his skills in cooking Japanese food by teaching and being taught by the best chefs who specialize in each culinary field such as Chinese and French, at a hotel kitchen where such best chefs gather. Having been involved in the opening of “Yamazato” as a master chef not only in Japan but also in Guam, Singapore, and Shanghai, he also has rich experience abroad. This is the sixth year that he works in Thailand: has he not been facing difficulties in procuring the ingredients? He answers, “From my past experiences, I think it is easy to get fresh ingredients from Japan in Bangkok in particular. About 80% of dishes currently being offered use ingredients from Japan. We get our ingredients from various parts of Japan through importers. In the summer like now, fish such as sweetfish (ayu) from Gifu prefecture and conger pike (hamo) from Ehime prefecture would be the best. It is also possible to get the fresh fish delivered on the same night after having it killed on the spot in the morning in Japan.
Ingredients are procured from the selected production areas in all over Japan
“Assorted Nigiri sushi,” a signature dish, offers tuna from Wakayama prefecture, alfonsino from Chiba prefecture; conger eel from Edo-Mae or the Tokyo Bay; as well as sea urchin, sweet shrimp, and scallop from Hokkaido prefecture. All ingredients are carefully selected based on the seasons and the production areas, including white trevally from Ehime prefecture and Japanese flounder from Sanriku area. Most seafood is brought from Tsukiji fish market, while some are bought directly from local fishery operators, to obtain the best ingredients. The wagyu beef offered at the restaurant is Satsuma gyu from Kagoshima prefecture. As many customers are particular about the quality of fat these days, the restaurant stocks oleic acid-rich wagyu beef by each quality grade. “Our long-time business partners kindly make their best efforts to meet to our difficult requests,” Mr. Hagiwara says. The restaurant procures various ingredients from Japan, including not only the essential ingredients such as Japanese pepper-tree leaves (kinome), round eggplant (marunasu), and Japanese honewort (hon-mitsuba), but also other vegetables having special delicate flavors, such as Japanese ginger (myoga) and green chili (ao-togarashi). “Japanese ginger and green chili are also grown in Thailand, but their flavors are either too strong or too spicy. I truly feel that vegetables in Japan are the results of time and effort. If the condition permits, I would like to use more vegetables and fruits from Japan, to please our customers,” Mr. Hagiwara says.
The taste of Okura Tokyo is reproduced in Bangkok
The concept of the international operations at “Yamazato” is “authentic Japanese.” The authentic and traditional dishes are fully reproduced in Thailand, as Mr. Hagiwara explains: “We make sure that our overseas restaurants are always led by somebody who knows the taste of Okura Tokyo, so we will stick to its taste. We must not damage Okura’s brand name.”
Mr. Hagiwara’s recommendation is “Simmered Japanese crossbred beef with Daikon Japanese radish (Gyu Daikon Takiawase),” which is packed with the flavor (umami) of Satsuma gyu, and refreshing “Sesame tofu curd (Gomatofu).” The topping of tofu, which is currently broad beans, is changed to gingko nuts, snow crab, or mugwort, depending on the season. Kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) course menu changes every month celebrating the Japanese festivals of each season and delivers Japanese hospitality in every detail. The restaurant stocks about 30 kinds of sake produced in Japan, selecting them taking into account the taste, the origin, and the price range. Their current recommendation is “Bon,” the Japanese sake from Fukui prefecture. They include such recommended brand in their “sake tasting menu” to appeal to those who are not used to Japanese sake as well as non-Japanese guests. It appears that many Thai customers like cold sake that has a fresh and sweet taste, and some even request the sake to be served in a traditional sake bottle (tokkuri) and with small sake cups (ochoko), from the image of sake in Japanese TV dramas.
The quality and safety is the advantage of using ingredients from Japan
Main customers are Japanese and Thai and their percentages are almost equal, followed by Chinese and European. “Japanese food has established an image as a healthy choice, and many non-Japanese customers now have a deep understanding of Japanese food. Even if we have different upbringings and are from different racial background, we all enjoy good food. In particular, because Japanese cuisine fully brings out the taste of the ingredients, the chefs can never cut corners. What is important for Japanese cuisine is the ability to assess the quality of the ingredient and the delicate seasoning. I believe this is the beauty of Japanese cuisine,” says Mr. Hagiwara, who is always as serious or even more so about concentrating on bringing out the goodness of ingredients, compared to the time he was in Japan. When asked about the benefit that can be gained and his passion that can be fulfilled by using ingredients from Japan, he answered, smiling placidly: “The first is the idea that we buy some sort of safety, as well as the quality. In addition, I have been hoping to use ingredients from Japan as much as possible to support Japan, since I started to work abroad.”