A student of the finer things to be found in the world’s kitchens, Riccardi, armed with a degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, spent one year in Kyoto studying kaiseki ryōri (Japan’s formal multicourse cuisine) and chakaiseki (tea ceremony cuisine). The author was fortunate in forming contacts who were able to open doors, including an entree into a prestigious Kyoto tea school, one with connections to a rarified world inaccessible to most foreigners.
The tendency in Japan to tinker with culture, to “improve” on the original is evident in the reinvention of kaiseki. In much the same way that the teahouse, a simple hut, became a temple of aesthetics, kaiseki restaurants now serve mini-banquets of exquisite, exorbitantly priced dishes. Riccardi’s account traces her search for the purity of tea kaiseki, whose minute dishes she compares to a French degustation.