Shady groves of fragrant trees, crisp alpine breezes and charming European-style villas — heat-addled Tokyoites hardly need more reasons to visit Karuizawa in the summer; this quiet town in Nagano Prefecture has long been a popular holiday destination for those looking for an escape from the intensity of the city. But for two weeks this August, from the 20th to the 31st, the Cu-Cal food festival will give Tokyo gourmands an extra incentive to make the 70-minute bullet train trip to Karuizawa.

The event, now in its sixth year, dubs itself as a celebration of Japanese ingredients, transformed into gourmet fare by noted chefs from around the country. The festival features around 20 chefs and consists of a series of special lunches and dinners held in a temporary restaurant space, where the chefs take turns staging cooking demonstrations in front of diners.

“Every year we do something a little different,” says co-organizer Rikuo Nishimori. “The first year, we created an atmosphere that resembled a food court. From the second year, we began borrowing unused restaurant spaces and developed the idea of the Chef’s Counter, where the chefs could interact with the audience.”

An architect by trade and a professor of architecture at Kogakuin University, Nishimori had the idea after his client suggested using a plot of undeveloped land in Karuizawa to stage an event.

“I immediately thought of a food fair, because the area was already popular among food lovers in Tokyo for its resortlike atmosphere and natural surroundings,” he recalls.

Nishimori teamed up with Mitose Tsuchida, food writer and editor at the gastronomy magazine Ryori Okoku (Cuisine Kingdom), to create a food festival with an international flavor. Although all of the participating chefs are Japanese, they each specialize in various styles of cuisine, and the Cu-Cal events give them the rare opportunity to collaborate with each other, even across different genres. The name Cu-Cal combines the “cu” of the French and Italian words cuisine and cucina — a play on the Japanese word ku, which means “to eat” — with the first syllable of “Karuizawa.”

Cu-Cal’s main objective is to promote not only the chefs, but also local foods, and, by extension, the area itself. The chefs at Cu-Cal Karuizawa are encouraged to use fruits and vegetables from Nagano Prefecture. In keeping with their theme of “cheering up” the nation through food, they will also be using agricultural products from the Tohoku region in an effort to support farmers in northeastern Japan.

Three years ago, the duo took the festival to the city of Nara, and Nishimori says that they hope to expand to other areas of the country that could use a boost.

This year, Cu-Cal Karuizawa will take place in the two-story cottage restaurant Il Sogno, located in the Hoshinoya woodland resort along the Yukawa River boardwalk. Cu-Cal Nara will be held Oct. 1-16 and Oct. 23-Nov. 13.

For schedule details and reservations, visit www.cu-cal.net (Japanese only).

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.


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