French cuisine in Japan
“The best season to visit Kyoto is the cold season from January through February. At the temple or wherever you go, there is the stillness and the crisp cold air. And the food tastes better in winter,” said Mr. Shinzo Okumura of the leading French restaurant in Kyoto “Okumura.”
Mr. Okumura went to France to apprentice when going abroad was still uncommon among Japanese people. He got over the visa and language barriers with a desperate struggle and acquired the cooking skills for the real French cuisine. Mr. Okumura came back to Japan from France three years later. But, at that time, the French cuisine made by Japanese was not appreciated by non-Japanese. However, it was changed when Japanese chefs including Mr. Okumura cooked foods from all over the world at the time of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964. It received recognition that Japanese chefs cook foods sticking to the basics.
Fusion of French cuisine and Japanese style
Today, the French cuisine in Japan is highly rated in the Michelin Guide. French cuisine has an established worldwide reputation for its beauty and the chef’s aesthetic sense shines through in French cuisine. The dishes prepared by Mr. Okumura, a leading French cuisine chef in Japan, have unique stories.
The scenery of the season is seen. The expert, Mr. Okumura, has added Japanese taste found in kaiseki ryori (a traditional multicourse Japanese dinner) to French cuisine. Hors d’oeuvre, soup, fish, meat, etc., the dishes served one after another are true French cuisine. It is pleasing just to look at them. For example, autumn colored maple leaves are scattered on the dish and the food is displayed on it. The pleased guest will feel like talking to the chef. Maybe the simple seasoning that enhances the natural taste of fresh ingredients is also Okumura’s style. Although there are knives and folks, it does not seem improper to eat with chopsticks. Although the dishes surely taste the way the refined French cuisine does, there probably are people who would feel Japan while eating the dishes.
“Vegetables, fishes or meats are better in winter. They are firmer and taste better. Vegetables and everything else are sweeter and have different texture than in other seasons. I think it is better to come to Kyoto in winter if you want to enjoy good food,” said Mr. Okumura about the charm of Kyoto in winter.
Please do enjoy “Kyoto in winter” that the expert who runs the restaurant for more than 30 years in Kyoto recommends
Seating capacity：Main dining 20 seats, Terrace 10 seats, Counter 13 seats,
2nd floor dining 70 seats, 1 Private room 6 seats
3, Ichijoji-tanida-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-city
Phone +81 75 781 0001
Hours 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Last order)
Average price 8000 yen – 30000 yen（Dinner）
“Omotenashi (hospitality)” in the Japanese cultural context gives importance to “shitsurae (the preparations that is made caring about each guest)” which is done by the host to welcome the guests and the dishes made from the viewpoint of the guests. “Gion Maruyama” is the Kyo-ryori (Japanese cuisine in Kyoto style) restaurant recommended by Mr. Shinzo Okumura, who has mastered French cuisine, as the representative of Japanese cuisine.
We have asked Mr. Yoshio Maruyama, the owner of “Gion Maruyama”, about his persistence in “omotenashi.”
The expert chef’s restaurant of Japanese cuisine “Gion Maruyama”
“The guest may come to Japan only once in a life time. I’d be glad if the guest talks about Japan upon going back home.” To do the best he can in order for his guest to leave Japan thinking that Japan was fun place to visit and having enjoyed Japanese cuisine was a precious experience is the chef’s role, thinks Mr. Maruyama.
What is essential to Japanese cuisine is to make the most of ingredients in season without covering the characteristic of the ingredients with strong seasoning. “In winter, food in season is definitely crabs from Taiza (the Tango region in Kyoto); and in other seasons, moroko (a type of carp which is highly valued as a high-quality fish) that is caught only in Lake Biwa and bamboo shoots,” says Mr. Maruyama. Foods have the greatest vital force when they are in season. It is said that temperature control of food is important to invigorate the vital force. Mr. Maruyama says the dishes are served in the order of the temperature: in cold winter, the first one to be served is a warm dish followed by the dish with natural temperature (i.e. a cold dish in winter and a hot dish in summer). He gives very fine care to prepare and serve his dishes and controls what he is going to offer according to the season and the occasion (a feast, a Buddhist memorial service, a business entertainment, etc.)
Mr. Maruyama says what he values when he cooks is something intangible.
“That is, for example, the light, the aroma, the temperature, the color, the sound and the like. Of course, the most important thing is the taste,” says Mr. Maruyama.
He values “shitsurae” in order for his guests to feel those things he mentioned. At Maruyama, efforts are made so that the guests can feel Japanese atmosphere: there are calligraphy and flowers to decorate the restaurant, a room with a view of a small garden, a room with a view of Japanese style house in Gion outside the window, etc.
Mr. Maruyama says, “I would like to talk about the experiences that can be enjoyed only in Kyoto or only in Gion to the guests from abroad.”
Kyo-ryori is custom made.
What is “Kyo-ryori” that Mr. Maruyama believes?
It is half-right and half-wrong that Kyo-ryori is “to offer food in season with simple seasoning.”
The essential of Kyo-ryori is the communication with the guests. “I think people from overseas sometimes have a preconceived image about Japanese cuisine. There may be those who do not care for Japanese food because it contains ingredients they cannot eat or because of the way it is cooked (sashimi, for example, that is served raw without cooking). But if they tell me what they cannot eat or do not like, I will do whatever I can,” says Mr. Maruyama. He thinks it is OK for the guests to be demanding and it is “Kyo-ryori” and “omotenashi” that answer demand.
Although Kyo-ryori is traditional cuisine, there is no usual dish. Mr. Maruyama says about his dishes, “I think they are innovation in conservative.” “A custom-made dish in answer to the guest’s demand,” this may be a classic.
Seating capacity: Counter 7 seats / Japanese Rooms 5 rooms (chair seats)
Gion-machi-minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-city
(Gion Ishidan sita, the other side of Gion Hotel)
Phone +81 75 525 0009
Hours 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. (Last order)/ 5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. (Last order)
Average price 6,000 yen – (Lunch)/15,000 yen – 40,000 yen (Dinner) tax and service charges excluded
Kenninji Gion Maruyama
Seating capacity：Tea-ceremony room 1 room, Japanese Rooms 5 rooms (chair seats)
566-15, Komatsu-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-city
Phone +81 75 561 9990
Hours 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. (Last order) / 5:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. (Last order)
Average price 6,000 yen – (Lunch)/10,000 yen – 40,000 yen (Dinner) tax and service charges excluded
Kyoto, although it is one of the most traditional old towns in Japan, is not rich in food ingredients including farm products and seafood. Under the adverse condition, the chefs have improved their skills to make delicious dishes using their creativity.
The two restaurants that represent Kyoto have tradition and take any risk to create a delicious dish.
Please enjoy their dishes when you come to Kyoto.
Kyoto Restaurants Winter Special 2012
There are many attractive restaurants in Kyoto.
Entitled “Kyoto Restaurants Winter Special,” over 80 restaurants offer special menus at special prices from Feb. 1 through Feb. 29, 2012. Please go to the following website for details.