The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Japanese Bistro ZEN
Aiming for fusion with local ingredients while maintaining the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine
Auckland / New Zealand
Center of ethnic food culture
New Zealand is a new country with a population of five million people.
Over around the past ten years, Auckland, its largest city, has experienced a continued boom in Japanese food. Japanese food, Japanese-style fusion cuisine, ramen noodles, udon (Japanese wheat noodles), sushi bars, and izakaya, etc., are popular with local people.
From its beginning, New Zealand has been a country of immigrants. It is multiethnic, multilingual, and has a firmly rooted ethnic food culture. It is no exaggeration to say that a boom is occurring in Japanese food, especially with the large increase in Chinese immigrants that has accompanied growth of the Chinese economy in recent years.
In addition to the traditional hangi cooking of the indigenous Maori people, large numbers of traditional dishes have been brought in by the many immigrants, and people can enjoy cuisine from Europe, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, etc.
Young chefs attempting fusion of Japanese cuisine and local ingredients
As a city, Auckland is a thriving economic center. Within it is a waterfront where many moored yachts can be seen, a few steps behind it takes you into a quiet street lined all around with trees, this is where Japanese Bistro ZEN is located. ZEN is managed by the Daikoku Restaurant Group, which operates ramen, izakaya, teppanyaki and Japanese restaurants. The group has already been certified as a Japanese-made food ingredient supporter store, and attracts a large number of fans of Japanese food. ZEN is in its first year since opening.
The restaurant has two young chefs, head chef Hisatsugu Kanbe (photo above) and chef Takahiro Oe (photo below). This energetic pair is ready to try their skills whatever the ingredients, and by coincidence, they are both from the same part of Japan, Saitama prefecture. Mr. Kanbe became a permanent resident of New Zealand in 2003, and is unusual for a head chef in that, although he has accumulated many years of experience as a chef, he re-entered cooking school. Day and night, he researches the fusion of traditional Japanese cuisine and local ingredients. Mr. Oe had the experience of his parents—without asking him—sending his luggage to a restaurant on the day of his high school graduation ceremony, forcing him to start work from the bottom. After that, he went from restaurant to restaurant, and finally encountered a famous kaiseki restaurant in Ginza, where he became fascinated by the world of Japanese cuisine and decided to make his way through life as a chef. After obtaining a work visa through the Daikoku Group, he became a chef at ZEN.
Tastes taught by indigenous people
For New Zealand, which is a major rugby nation, the Maori culture, known through "kamate kamate," is embraced as a part of citizens’ lives even today. In particular, hangi cooking, which is a traditional food culture, is famous. Hangi cooking is a cooking method in which hot stones are put into a hole dug in the ground. Meat such as chicken or lamb, and whole vegetables such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots and cabbage are placed into a basket, the basket is placed on the stones and covered with tree leaves and earth, and the contents are baked for around four hours. The Maori know everything about eating the wild herbs and natural ingredients that they have used for centuries. There is the popular manuka honey, and the abundant marine products peculiar to an island nation, but the modern period also offers a rich variety of foodstuffs, such as lamb and venison, avocado oil, and imported ingredients from overseas.
Chefs Kanbe and Oe seek to fuse these ingredients, that have been used for so long by the indigenous people, with Japanese cuisine. While incorporating the basics of traditional Japanese cuisine, they use many ingredients that can only be obtained locally—such as pikopiko (the shoots of a large fern), tuatua (a shellfish that lives on sandy beaches) and kawakawa (a herb)—to fuse the taste of Japan with New Zealand’s world renowned lamb, and use the locally produced olive oil, with its unique fragrance, in carpaccio, etc. In this way, they spend each day continuing the process of discovery and creation. While making wide use of Japanese-made food ingredients, for example, seasonings such as soy sauce, mirin and miso, they are striving to allow customers to taste them in combination with many indigenous people’s ingredients and special local ingredients.