Tokyo (CNN) Inside a dimly lit eating room, Sazenka’s chef Tomayo Kawada is drawing a yin-yang diagram in a pocket book as he explains his goals for the distant future.
“World peace by way of meals,” he says.
Such phrases might simply be dismissed as idealistic hyperbole. However coming from Kawada, they sound virtually reassuring and even reachable.
In spite of everything, this Japanese chef has achieved a feat no different restaurateur has achieved earlier than; he created the world’s solely three-Michelin-starred Chinese language restaurant in a non-Chinese language-speaking metropolis. Not a straightforward job within the carefully guarded world of Chinese language cuisines.
Chinese language methods imbued with Japanese spirit
Set inside a former diplomat’s residence in a quiet, upscale residential neighborhood, Sazenka’s rise has been fast. It obtained two stars from the Michelin Information in 2017, the identical yr it opened. One other star was added in 2020 and has saved all three stars ever since.
To focus on how spectacular it’s, it is price nothing, there are solely seven different Chinese language eating places on the planet with three Michelin stars, and people are in Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei and Beijing.
The Tokyo restaurant was additionally named the eleventh greatest restaurant in Asia’s 50 Greatest Eating places Awards in 2022, the second highest-rated Chinese language restaurant on the listing.
“I am not there but,” says the standard chef of his successes.
“It is solely been six years. I am certain we will make even higher meals, present higher service, and make our clients happier.”
The staff has a number of each day conferences as a part of efforts to attain these targets.
“Sadly, I in all probability will not really feel happy with the outcomes till I die,” says Kawada. “However we’re rising and we’re pleased. It is like climbing a mountain: we attain a peak and one thing else begins. However once we look again, I nonetheless suppose it was enjoyable once we had been climbing.”
The poetic identify of the restaurant, Sazenka, is made up of three phrases which means tea, zen and chinese language. The restaurant’s 11-course feast, excluding the small bites, tea pairing, and desserts, feels extra like a aware kaiseki expertise than a standard Chinese language banquet. The associated fee? About $450 per individual.
It begins with a bowl of somen noodles served in a mixture of clear broth and tea oil in a blue and white porcelain cup, and ends with a ball of candy rice floating in delicate tea soup.
The menu’s regional Chinese language dishes, from Cantonese char siu (honey-glazed roast pork) to Sichuan pepper pigeon, are infused with a singular Japanese twist.
Why Chinese language meals?
For Kawada, the menu he created for Sazenka is a childhood dream come true. His love for Chinese language meals started when he was solely 5 years previous, after his dad and mom took him to a Chinese language restaurant in Tochigi Prefecture of Japan.
“I vividly keep in mind that second, after I was drawn to the sweetness and goodness of Chinese language meals,” he says.
“There have been dishes known as bang bang hen, mapo tofu or yun bai rou (cloudy pork slices). I used to be fascinated by their magnificence. I might see the magnificent Chinese language panorama within the meals.
“I used to be so impressed that I made a decision that sooner or later I might develop into a Chinese language chef.”
At 18, she received a job within the kitchen of Azabu Choko, a Sichuanese restaurant in Tokyo, now closed. He labored there for a decade earlier than switching to Japanese delicacies and coaching with RyuGin chef Seiji Yamamoto for 5 years.
However through the years he has typically visited China to see the landscapes and deepen his understanding of the delicacies.
In 2017, she began creating her personal model of Chinese language delicacies and Sazenka was born.
“There is a Japanese section known as Wakon-Kansai (Japanese spirit and Chinese language aptitude),” says Kawada, when requested to outline his delicacies.
“Sazenka’s meals is predicated on Sichuan delicacies with a Japanese spirit and a Chinese language sensibility.”
Wonton soup with a Japanese twist
The set menu is full of reveals, all showcasing the chef’s meticulous Chinese language and Japanese cooking methods.
Sichuan pepper pigeon is ready in two methods: its legs are cooked to crispy Cantonese-style perfection, whereas the breast will get the Japanese yakitori therapy: skewered and grilled.
Cloudy Pork Slices’ Sichuan-inspired dish options beautiful marbled pork layered with skinny slices of eggplant minimize into the form of feathers.
The jellyfish salad is delicately sliced and served in a small bowl created from a Japanese sudachi citrus fruit.
However of all Sazenka’s wealthy and expressive dishes, Kawada chooses the humblest of all to signify his restaurant: Pheasant Soup, impressed by Hong Kong wonton soup, with a pork dumpling floating in a transparent broth.
“Hong Kong’s premium broth is extremely scrumptious. I’ve at all times questioned what would occur if I attempted to specific the style of Japanese broth in Chinese language delicacies,” says Kawada.
To make “easy soup,” as he calls it, the pheasant’s bones have to be pounded and soaked in water in a single day. They’re then boiled over excessive warmth till blood runs out and is eliminated. The remaining bones are then boiled for about 4 hours.
The broth might want to relaxation for an additional day earlier than including minced pheasant meat, Jinhua uncooked ham, seaweed, inexperienced onions, ginger, 15-year Shaoxing wine, salt and pepper to season the clear broth.
“The second you set it in your mouth, the style is nothing stunning however very delicate,” says the chef.
“However regularly, the goodness comes. The depth of this goodness is a energy of Japanese delicacies. The spirit of Japanese delicacies is a dish that makes you suppose, ‘I actually preferred that pheasant soup’ simply three days later. This pheasant soup is the world of Japanese delicacies represented in a single bowl.”
“It isn’t fusion however concord”
The soup can also be the proper illustration of Sazenka’s Wakon-Kansai philosophy, which has nothing to do with recreating genuine Chinese language dishes in Japan.
“I’ve at all times thought that genuine cuisines from their unique locations are one of the best. However I feel creating a tradition is simply doable if you journey. So now, I feel making a delicacies, be it Sichuan or Japanese, that makes folks feeling comfy is an impressive achievement,” says Kawada.
For him, consuming is not only an exercise, however “a pleasant strategy to talk peace”.
In his view, all of it goes again to that yin-yang image of Taiji.
“If Japanese delicacies is black and Chinese language delicacies is white, the mixing of the 2 will kind a grey circle,” she says, noting that as a substitute the 2 cuisines ought to coexist because the black and white dots within the Yin-Yang diagram. .
“It is not fusion however concord, which is made up of two Chinese language characters – cho and wa (combine and collectively) – with out erasing the goodness of Japanese delicacies and Chinese language delicacies into one another.”
He factors to Japanese meals as a delicacies that has achieved this by incorporating the cooking methods and components of varied cultures from world wide.
“I feel the Wakon-Kansai concept is great. It reveals how strongly folks believed that Japanese and Chinese language cultures ought to get alongside greater than 1,000 years in the past and that we should always respect one another’s good factors.”
Though the idea of Wakon-Kansai originated within the Heian interval (794-1185), he says it nonetheless applies to many relationships world wide right this moment.
“Cooking is in regards to the land and it is also in regards to the relationship between international locations,” says Kawada.
“I hope Sazenka will be seen on this method as an emblem of world peace, getting alongside by way of meals. That is the thought I’ve after I method my cooking.”
CNN’s Moeri Karasawa contributed to the report.