The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Yamazato
Long-standing restaurant that has also participated in the World Expo serves a rich variety of fresh seafood from Nagasaki and other regions of Japan
Shanghai / China
High-end Japanese Restaurant Established in 1990
Yamazato is a high-end Japanese restaurant in Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai located along Huaihai Road in Shanghai’s downtown area. The restaurant opened under the name Sakura with the official opening of the hotel in 1990 and has long been patronized as one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in Shanghai. It changed its name to Yamazato in January 1997 and served Japanese cuisine at the Japanese pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.
We spoke to Chef Akihiro Omori, the ninth-generation chief chef of Yamazato. Chef Omori graduated from Osaka Abeno Tsuji Culinary Institute in 1989 and joined Hotel Okura Tokyo that same year. In 2003, at the age of 34, he was appointed chief chef of Japanese cuisine at Okura Chiba Hotel, the youngest to become a chief chef within the Okura hotel group. After returning to Hotel Okura Tokyo, he became the chief chef for Japanese cuisine at Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai in November 2015.
Serves Fresh Seafood as a Kaiseki Course or À la Carte
The main ingredients that are from Japan are seafood, including bluefin tuna, yellowtail, red sea bream, horse mackerel, mackerel, kinmedai (splendid alfonsino), oysters, squid, sea urchin, and sazae (turban shell). Fresh seafood is sourced from Nagasaki and Kagoshima through Daling Food Co. Ltd., an importer and distributor of seafood in China. Now that Daling Food has signed a contract with Hokkaido’s Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations, the restaurant now also handles sea urchin, crabs, kinki (broadfin thornyhead), and shishamo (smelt) from the region. “Mikan-tai” red snapper and “mikan-buri” yellowtail from Ehime are brought from a different wholesaler. These fish are fed with a feed mixed with mandarin orange skin, resulting in an infused citrus flavor, and are popular among people who are not used to eating raw fish. “When buying new ingredients, we need to examine the cost and whether they are available all year round,” says Chef Omori.
Among the popular dishes served as part of the seasonal kaiseki course or à la carte are various sashimi, or otsukuri, dishes including red sea bream, sea urchin, and horse mackerel tartare, as well as cooked seafood such as grilled nodokuro (rosy seabass) and steamed kidai (yellowback sea bream) and vegetables. The recommendation of the chief chef is the nori seaweed-wrapped sea urchin tempura, “Uni Isobe Age,” which was originally requested by a customer and later incorporated into the regular menu. In this way, the restaurant also accommodates individual and unique requests made by the customers.
Noodles and Alcoholic Beverages from Various Regions
There are various other ingredients from Japan. “Inaniwa Udon” from Akita and “Somen Noodles” from Nagasaki are served hot or cold and are found on the menu under those very names. Katakuriko potato starch from Hokkaido, mozuku seaweed from Okinawa, and “Ube Kamaboko” fish cake from Yamaguchi are also used in the dishes.
The restaurant is stocked with alcoholic beverages from Japan with a choice from 15 brands of sake, 6 brands of shochu, and 1 whisky brand. The selection is based on the stability of the supply as import of alcohol takes a long time. The menu includes images and comments by the sommelier and, in addition, a monthly signage to promote specific brands to make it easier for the customers to choose their drink order. The more well-known Dassai and daiginjo sake are particularly popular among Chinese customers. The restaurant also organizes a Japanese sake event three times a year, during which sake from specific sake breweries are served, such as Nishinoseki from Kyushu, along with its seasonal selections.
Japanese Seafood Boasts Technical Superiority
According to Chef Omori, the merit of using Japanese ingredients is particularly evident with seafood. “In traditional Chinese culture, fish is not consumed raw, so even if fresh seafood is available here, I feel that the techniques of handling and preserving them is lacking. In this aspect, I don’t have to worry when using seafood from Japan.”
Many Chinese Customers are Well Versed in Japanese Food
While Chef Omori manages the kitchen area, Mr. Jiang Wei Dan supervises the floor. He is a long-standing employee who has worked for the restaurant since 2005 for 12 years. He speaks Japanese fluently and has become a familiar face among many customers. He makes order suggestions based on the recommended seafood of the day. According to Mr. 蒋, more than 60% of the customers are Chinese and most of them are well acquainted with Japanese cuisine. Some of them ask for the most expensive dish on the menu.
“I want people to appreciate the fine flavors of wagyu beef and blow fish”
“Our restaurant also acts as a bridge between China and Japan, so as long as the quality is good, we use Chinese ingredients,” says Chef Omori. This includes vegetables and Japanese beer that are produced in China, as well as a variety of products from Chinese companies that have implemented Japanese techniques. Going forward, he hopes to serve wagyu beef and blow fish so that Chinese people too can learn to appreciate their fine flavors.