Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

Kyoaji chef Kenichiro Nishi's legacy lives on in Japan's top restaurants

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

The world of traditional Japanese cuisine has lost one of its luminaries. Chef Kenichiro Nishi, the founder of the renowned Shinbashi restaurant Kyoaji, passed away at the age of 81 on July 26.

Himself the son of a leading chef in Kyoto, Nishi moved to Tokyo in 1967, and opened Kyoaji at the age of 30. Over the next half-century, he gained an unrivaled reputation for serving the finest traditional cuisine in the capital, always staying true to the cooking style he learned from his father, with little regard for prevailing food fashions.

It was that consistency, timelessness and the quality of Nishi’s cooking that won him so many plaudits. Reservations at the eight-seat counter looking in at his open kitchen became close to impossible to secure. And for the lucky few of us who managed it, each occasion there was a pleasure, a privilege and an education in dining well.

After being featured in the classic manga series “Oishinbo,”Nishi’s fame spread. He never dispelled the whispers that he — unlike sushi legend Jiro Ono — had rejected Michelin’s attempts to award him the coveted three-star status.

But the true measure of his legacy lies in the number of top restaurants run by chefs who worked under him: Kurogi, Hoshino, Uchiyama, Iyuki and more. Through them Nishi’s influence will continue undiminished.

Kyoaji: Shinbashi 3-3-5, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 105-0004; 03-3591-3344. Open 12-2 p.m.; 6-10 p.m. (closed Sun. & hols.). Omakase menu from ¥40,000. Nearest station: Shinbashi; no credit cards (cash only); nonsmoking; no menu; little English spoken

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