Chef leaves Japanese imprint in bronze at top French cookoff

Kyodo

By leading the Japan team to a medal in the Bocuse d’Or cooking competition in late January, chef Noriyuki Hamada realized a long-cherished dream shared by his compatriots by showcasing what he calls “Japan’s original French cuisine.”

“This is certainly not the end of my journey, but only the first step in introducing the world to Japan’s original French cuisine,” said the executive chef of Yukawatan, a French restaurant in the resort town of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture.

In what is regarded as the world’s top culinary competition, founded in 1987 by world-renowned chef Paul Bocuse, Hamada, 37, won the bronze for dishes prepared mostly with Japanese ingredients, including “shiso” (perilla), seaweed and shiitake.

To give a stronger Japanese touch to his dishes, Hamada also prepared plates and cutlery designed by Japanese craftsmen from all over the country.

For instance, the silver trays for his meat course came from Tsubame, Niigata Prefecture, the fish plates from Takeo, Saga Prefecture, and the knives from Echizen, Fukui Prefecture.

“I am most delighted about the fact that my own work, which is not just an imitation of the traditional French cuisine, was recognized by the world,” Hamada said in a statement on the restaurant’s website.

“It has always been my dream and my goal to show the world the potential of Japanese cooking through my identity as a Japanese chef in the cuisine Francaise,” he said.

Out of the 24 participating countries, Japan was the last to be tested. The last competitor is often said to face the toughest time because the judges will have seen and tasted so many different kinds of cuisine by the time their dishes are tried.

But Hamada, whose hair is tied up in a samurai topknot, attained top marks for a fish dish prepared in a wooden box. When opened, the box emits steam infused with the scent of “yuzu” (citron).

This year, the gold medal went to the French team and the silver to Sweden.

In 2005, Hamada became the youngest chef to win the Bocuse d’Or Japon contest, earning the right to represent Japan in the biennial professional championship.