japan

TASTING THE VEGETARIAN ICON

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 I’ve done it again and again. In the gourmet capitals of the world…Paris, London, Tokyo, New York. Tasted the emblematic dish  of  the seventeen Michelin starred maestro Alain Ducasse’s culinary philosophy. A symbol of “sincere cuisine”– a harmony of flavors– that is both respectful to the environment and to health. And that too in restaurants located in the world’s most legendary hotels. I refer to the cookpot…Alain Ducasse’s world renowned signature dish He serves up seasonal vegetables from the local terroir cooked in the cookpot. And this seemingly simple pot  is used from the stove to the table.

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DUCASSE’S WORLD RENOWNED COOKPOT…

It’s truly a “sensual”  dish with an aesthetic that cradles and caresses the food. It’s almost feminine and womb like and Ducasse’s inspiration for it is from his grandmother. “We must restart from the beginning, where the true tastes are […] the technique here is to reveal the flavour of nature,” announced this maestro many years ago. And this simply superb and superbly simple dish has a basic recipe which is the same across all of Ducasse’s restaurants, with the mushroom duxelle and at least seven local, seasonal vegetables. The pot itself is a design masterpiece that is contemporary and nostalgic ( created by Pierre Tachon  it owes it’s attractive curves and perfect proportions to porcelain manufacturer Pillivuyt)

Over the years I’ve been getting high on the cookpot in Ducasse’s restaurants around the world.

Be it London’s Dorchester, Paris’s Plaza Athenee, these finest of all hotels are reputed for infusing into their essence the glamour, excitement, and creativity of the people who have been regulars here.

Today I share with you my most recent taste of this dish in three memorable venues.

PARIS :LUXURIOUS VEGETARIAN WOWS

Please take a look at the photograph, shot in the gleaming kitchen of Paris’ most stylish address Plaza Athenee, which serves up the best of the best. Including Alain Ducasse’s shimmering temple to gastronomy which has the gardener’s name on the menu and serves only vegetables, grain and fish. Luxury drips in 10,000 Swarovski pendant-like chandeliers and it is here that I’ve had the most fabulous meals  coddled by immaculate service and brilliant attention to detail.

On this recent trip I not only had the most exceptional was fixated on Ducasse’s brand new book on vegetarian cooking (which the gifted Chef Romain Meder is holding along with the dynamic chief of the Dorchester group Francois Delahaye).

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 Alain Ducasse with Jean Phillipe Blondet  at the Dorchester (black and white photo by Pierre Monetta).
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 Chef Romain Meder with Francois Delahaye at Plaza Athenee.

GOD HAS COME TO LONDON…Dorchester

“God has come to London” swooned  critics when Ducasse set up in London’s legendary landmark  The Dorchester. I’d first dined at Ducasse’s  newly opened restaurant and went back several times again. Here reality is more luxurious than fantasy.   Amid the cloud, surrounded by a luminiscient oval curtain, Id gotten high on the classic French-driven menu  I still remember the tastes and textures of  the “delicate soft Royale of greens”  a glorious medley of vegetables with an ever enlarging circle of freshness. And of course that cookpot, heady and perfect.And I still marvel at how the grand hotel continues to tango with high octane young energy.

BREAKING NEWS…On the River Seine

Its making international waves. It’s an unrivalled Parisian experience. And its has just been launched. It’s a floating masterpiece of Paris history and landmarks. It’s been overbooked since it opened and it took planning ahead to get a table here.

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By the Eiffel tower, sailing on the brand new Ducasse sur Seine
…Ines Aouididi flanked by Herve Garnier and Ulysse Bour.

 I’m on board the brand new super luxurious restaurant “Ducasse sur seinne” that has just opened and is making international waves. As the Eiffel tower sparkles on the hour of eight,  Captain Ulysee Boar and Ines Ioudidi   flag off our luxurious meal. Luxurious dining gets redefined. Sailing & Feasting on Parisian landmarks and  emblematic French  food too. Serenditpitiously we are sailing past  my favorite Alexanders bridge when my favorite vegetarian Cookpot is served up. The specially-created, single-serving cocotte, delicious with spelt and violet artichokes is memorable. All created in the bespoke kitchens which sprawl on the lower deck Champagne sparkled the beginning of the dinner. And a parade of dishes sashay in as the silent electric boat glides to music. The meal meanders from the delicate Foie gras pâté  to the Chocolate  crispy praline accompanied by the finest wines, a symphony of the best French Crus. All this amid lighting by Franck Franjoy from lunar cold to candle warm, a coddling of  music and sound  and uberfab  interiors. And ooh! that cookpot…and yes! the maestro has very generously shared the recipe with me, should you need it, please do mail rashmiudaysingh18@gmail.com

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Japan Wows

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Yuko and Yoshihiro Narisawa. The iconic live bread.

What you see in the photograph is a live wheat bread (decorated with leaves and tree branches) and it was cooked over hot stone on our table.  And it yielded two most delicious warm, slightly chewy bread balls, we  devoured with butter covered with black olive powder and green moss.

This was just the beginning of Michelin starred Maestro Yoshihiro Narisawa’s magic. “Essence Of the forest” and a parade of dishes inspired and dedicated to nature follow. Dining at the Best of the best, taking an hours bullet train ride (from Tokyo)to stay at the exquisite traditional Japanese Ryokan (inn) San Jyuan thanks to Chef Munidasa are some of the highlights.

In Kyoto, I bow in Reverence at the Buddhist temples, wear the Formal “Furisode” kimono and attend Zen meditation there. And dine on the pure vegetarian “shojin” temple cuisines. Im still savouring Did you know that till the 19th century, Japan was largely vegetarian due to the Buddhist influence? And awesome vegetarian at that. In Japan the wow never wavers…

A Taste of History & Health & Zen

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CHEF IRYO AND MAAYA ARAKAWA AT THE 12TH CENTURY POND GARDEN, KYOTO

I’m rejoicing. I’m surrounded by the exquisite 12th century pond garden, (ikeniwa, or Shakusuien garden) and getting a taste of maestro Tsuyoshi Iryo’s melt in the mouth home made tofu. And this in Kyoto, one of Japan’s best-preserved historic cities. Not only was it Japan’s capital for over a thousand years but most of what we consider the essence of Japan…from the art of the tea ceremony to Ikebana flower arranging…originated here. I attend an hour long Zen meditation in a Buddhist temple, chanting at another at the crack of dawn and Go on the Hozugawa River Boat Ride.

I  thrill to the fact that today, Kyoto is home to cutting-edge biotech, education and is  a forward-looking centre for art and design. Combining both the traditional and the modern is the magnificent Four Seasons hotel at the heart of which is this 12th century pond garden. A glass bridge takes me to our quaint tea house, Shakusui-tei. The essence of Japan alive in the interiors, with thewashi-paper lamps,fusuma screens and urushi lacquerware. This is meshed in with modern and hi-tech conveniences,  In the hi-cool Brasserie, modern cooking techniques and local Kyoto ingredients come together in seasonal and vibrant dishes.

It is here that maestro Tsuyoshi-san who has honed his skills internationally, conjures memorable dishes.  Tsuyoshi’s contemporary, chic and elegant cooking style fits perfectly with  the”hip and cool” modern Brasserie concept. The ever helpful and super efficient Maaya Arakawa guides me through the intricacies of Japanese culture (including wearing a kimono) history and cuisine.  My smattering of Japanese language lesson comes in handy to say “Japan I love you”

TERRIFIC TOFU

Vegetarians  and Vegan’s delight! Delicious and healthful are two words that usually do not combine together. Tofu is one of the few exceptions. Tsuyoshi san shares his recipe and some of the health benefits of… tofu

Tofu, or bean curd ( made by curdling fresh soya milk) which originated in China 2000 years ago, is an excellent source of protein and contains all eight essential amino acids. It is also an excellent source of iron and calcium and minerals.

Soya protein (from which tofu is derived) is believed to help lower levels of bad cholesterol . Interestingly, Tofu contains phytoestrogens called isoflavones – whichy help menopausal women reduce their symptoms.  However, it is important to remember that Tofu and all soya products contain large amounts of oxalate. So all those who  have a history of oxalate containing kidney stones should avoid over consuming soya products.

Chef Iryo’s Home-made tofu ginger sauce

Ingredients    

200cc Soy Milk

1g Brine

300cc dashi (seaweed)

2tsp Soy

1tsp Mirin

Pinch Salt

ginger (grated)

2g potato starch

spring leek (chopped)

edible flower

Method

①Mix soy milk and brine together and steam for 10 minutes in a steam proof bowl.

②Soak Kombu (kelp) in water over night.

③Combine the kelp dashi (step ②), soy sauce, mirin, salt and grated ginger into a pot and bring to a boil.

④Place the above mixture over a medium heat. Once it begins to simmer, gradually add the potato starch slurry, thickening the sauce. Stir well until glazed.

⑤Pour the sauce over the tofu and place the spring leek and flowers on top for garnish.

UNIQUELY KYOTO  

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Azusa Hosoya and Eiko Nakayama with Kyoto salt, tea and yuzu

I’m thrilling to a therapeutic  massage of my senses. Not only am I tasting, fragrancing …Kyoto ‘s famed salt and tea from Thamba and  Yuzu the famous Japanese fruit but also having a massage with them. Azusa Hosoya and Eiko Nakayama   skillfully explain and then soothe my senses in the serene and beautiful Four Seasons Spa.

The Japanese Yuzu ( a good source of antioxidants that can help replenish dead skin cells) is a unique blend of lime, lemon and grapefruit. It’s health benefits  are mainly from the vitamin C that can be found in it, which is a powerful antioxidant.It makes the skin smooth and silky and even fragrant.I love Yuzu’s tart flavor with overtones of mandarin orange, though it is rarely eaten as a fruit,  but in Japanese cuisine its aromatic zest (outer rind) is used to garnish some dishes, and its juice is commonly used as a seasoning.

Sure, it has a long tradition and is believed to ward off winter colds and flu. But right now what is delighting me is that it is rich in multivitamins and minerals,  and it is helping me to glow, reboot and rejuvenate.

Tasting Tokyo

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Chef Yuji Imaizumi, Michiko Fujikawa and Dharshan Munidasa at the iconic Sushi Soro.

I’m on a pilgrimage.I write from the holy of holies gastronomic destination, Japan. I revel in their unmatched reverence for the freshest of ingredients. We dine at the Worlds finest restaurants,  be it the three Michelin starred Ryugin where Yamamotosan dazzles with his luxurious flamboyance, the superlative Michelin starred Narisawa san serves up magic. Alain Ducasse’s starred and super elegant Beige to the inexpensive soba restaurants to Tsukiji the Worlds largest seafood market…it’s a dream come true. And flying in specially to guide me is Chef Dharshan Munidasa (half Japanese) whose three award-winning restaurants in Colombo are internationally well-known.  At the heart of it all is theiconic Mandarin Oriental which  brings contemporary elegance to Nihonbashi, the historical and cultural centre of Tokyo commerce. Here in it’s iconic Sushi soro (sushi in the sky) maestro Yuji Imaizumi takes us through  a Omakase experience “Edo-mae” style of traditional sushi. The massage of the senses continues in their heavenly space in the sky spa. “Totally Tokyo” rice plays a stellar role, plum, green tea, pine and bamboo too.. Food is God. And I bow in deep reverence. My Japanese language lessons are coming in handy enough to say “I love Japan”  Nihon Ga suki  dis

Magnificient Massage of the Senses

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PAUL JONES AND DHARSHAN MUNIDASA (STANDING CHEF YUJI IMAIZUMI). THE SUSHI WITH THE SEAWEED ROLL IS THE “MAKI ROLL” AND THE OTHER ONE IS “NIGIRI”

I’m in gastronomic heaven! And I didn’t even have to die to get here. I write from the capital of the worlds finest gastronomic country. I revel in this unmatched reverence of the freshest of ingredients, be it rice, tea to seafood and more. And here’s the surprise, I do so in its  exclusive sushi restaurant as well in it’s oasis-like, fabulously well-appointed award-winning spa. I am regaled with a massage of all my senses. And all this in the iconic Mandarin Oriental which  brings contemporary elegance to Nihonbashi, the historical and cultural centre of Tokyo commerce. True to its surroundings, it blends the best of past and future architectural splendor. The dynamic Paul Jones who helms this landmark has a strong India connection (having lived and spearheaded hotels there) and now in Tokyo is not only extremely well-versed in the Japanese culture but is as much a sushi fan as he is of Indian food.

SUSHI IN THE SKY

We float above Tokyo, on the 38th floor of the iconic Mandarin Oriental and the floor-to-ceiling glass windows  serve up breathtaking views of the revered Mt Fuji and the dynamic city panorama. No wonder this magnificent Sushi restaurant is called Sushi Soro (soro means sky). In front of us in this 8 seater Sushi Soro restaurant is maestro Yuji Imaizumi who has over 20 years of refined experience.

We all know that Japanese cuisine is acknowledged to be the worlds most sophisticated cuisine, it combines the artistic with precision, freshest and finest of produce, seasonality and a reverence that is unmatched in the world.  Explaining the cuisine’s intricacies. is Chef Dharshan Munidasa, who is half Japanese and half Srilankan and coinicidentally, his award winning Japanese restaurant in Colombo is called Nihonbashi. He guides me through the worlds largest fish market, Tsukiji, (where he flies in to regularly buy seafood and more) too.  Over a relaxed Omakase experience, we watch this true master of Tokyo’s authentic “Edo-mae” style of traditional sushi cuisine as he works deftly  on the sushi counter sculpted from a 350 year old Japanese cypress tree.

SUSHI: DID YOU KNOW?

We all know that “su shi”(sour rice) and it represents the category of Japanese foods which consist of cooked, seasoned rice served with fish, meat, vegetables, or other ingredients. The common varieties are maki rolls ( wrapped with seaweed or Nori), nigiri (individual mounds of rice topped with other ingredients).

But did you know ?

*That the most important component of sushi is rice? Think about rice to sushi as dough is to pizza: if your dough is no good, the pizza is no good, regardless how excellent its toppings.

*Sushi etiquette: Eat the sushi with your fingers (not chopsticks). Use the oshibori – a hot, moist towel neatly rolled up, to clean your hands during the meal, but when done, make sure to place it neatly to the side, not crumpled in a ball.

*You will be served pickled sweetened ginger (gari) , a swipe of wasabi ( a kind of horseradish).  We make the common mistake of eating the gari with the sushi, actually it is meant to be eaten in between the sushi bites. We make the common mistake of adding wasabi into soy sauce and using it as a dipping sauce. Wasabi can be added to pieces of sashimi, or placed atop nigiri – but not mixed into soy sauce. Many omakase bars will pre-lacquer your nigiri with soy, so you won’t even have to worry about soy sauce and dipping.

But let’s say that a few nigiri pieces are not pre-sauced. Always, always dip your nigiri fish side into the soy sauce, as opposed to dunking the bottom rice part head first. If you dip rice first, too much soy will be absorbed, and overpower the fish’s delicate flavor.

Totally Tokyo

Excuse me while I get rejuvenated  through Five different Routes with a spa journey featuring five essentially Japanese ingredients. This in the heavenly space in the sky spa. In Mandarin Oriental’s treatment named “Totally Tokyo” you can be sure rice plays a stellar role, plum, green tea, pine and bamboo too.. Enveloped in sounds filtered through bamboo speakers and the fragrance of green tea, a pine-oil footbath, a plum-salt scrub, and a warming rice hull pack expertly applied by the therapist while the everhelpful and super efficient  Michiko Fujikawa fluently explains it all in English. This ofcourse after the deeply relaxing shiatsu-style massage. Did I forget to tell you that through the big glass windows, the sacred snow-capped Mt Fuji in the blue winter skies is also blessing my magnifcient massage of the  senses?