Growing up, chef Yuri Nomura saw food as magical.
“My mother always welcomed people to our table,” she says. “I saw people eating good food, smiling and talking freely. It made people feel peaceful in their minds.”
Now, her work as a chef, writer, film director and radio show host links people to farmers and fishermen, to the sea and soil, and to each other through food.
Hungry for new tastes and cultures, Nomura traveled after university, studying at Le Cordon Bleu London and Leiths School of Food and Wine, exploring culinary destinations in Europe. When she returned to Japan in 2000, Teruo Kurosaki, founder of furniture store Idee and a cutting-edge designer, hired her as the chef for the restaurant in his flagship store. She also traveled internationally as a food designer for Idee special events. “I learned a lot from all those experiences,” she laughs. “I learned I didn’t want to be a food coordinator, but a chef.”
Around this time, Kurosaki would say something that stuck with her. “Almost 20 years ago, he said the most important thing is organic food,” Nomura recounts. “At that time, though, nobody was thinking about organic food in Japan.”
When Nomura left Idee in 2009, she finally took a deep dive into the world of organic food at home.
She wanted to deepen her understanding of the interplay between good food and a good life, and find the best way to share it. She chose five of her friends – a food purveyor, a Buddhist monk, a singer, an actor and a housewife – each living simply with food as the centerpiece and opted for film. “Words aren’t always enough,” she says. “The movie captured everything.”
The film, “Eatrip,” was released in June 2009 and screened in the U.S., at Cannes Film Festival and in Japan. Its intimate views of home, family life and the meals at their center are aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking. However, the whirlwind of production and screening left Nomura hungry to get back in the kitchen.
“There were a few different options available,” she says, “but I wanted to be closer to chefs and farmers and to cook.” Thinking about what to do next, she remembered Kurosaki mentioned he knew farm-to-table pioneer Alice Waters.
Nomura requested to do a stage (unpaid internship), and spent three months at Chez Panisse in Berkeley under Waters’ tutelage. As she worked, she grew to love dishes made with local, seasonal produce for the stories of the growers and producers who made them possible as much as for their taste. The experience resonated.
“Everything started with good people growing good food that we cooked simply,” Nomura says. “Then we served it to the customer. It was, and is, a very simple line (between growers, restaurant and diners).”
By this time, Nomura had become a key figure for the country’s nascent organic and local food movement. In 2011, she invited members of Open Restaurant, a U.S.-based food and art collective of restaurant professionals exploring food issues, to visit Japan to meet growers and producers, culminating in a two-day Open Harvest event. Articles, cookbooks and media appearances soon followed. In 2018, when American chef Samin Nosrat visited Japan to film an episode of the Netflix series “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” Nomura topped the guestlist for the “Salt” episode.
Yet, despite her invaluable experiences, opening her own restaurant was, for a long time, not on her agenda.
“It’s so much work,” Nomura says. Then her friend and business partner, Yukari Iki, found a small old house with a garden. “‘Just take a look,’ she said. How could I say no?”
Her restaurant, Eatrip, opened in 2012 alongside Iki’s The Little Shop of Flowers. Tucked in a tiny corner of Harajuku, high-rises and high-fashion swirl just beyond its verdant courtyard. Trees bend over a stone-dotted path that leads to a warmly lit space full of fresh flowers and delicious food. As Food Director, Nomura oversees the crafting of a welcoming and warm experience, that clear line from farmer and fishermen to customer apparent on every plate the restaurant’s head chef, Masataka Onishi, serves.
Her latest venture, Eatrip Soil, takes a different approach to the bond between farmers and customers, earth and food. Nomura curates a selection of imported items, along with fresh and prepared foods, from Japanese growers. During the COVID-19 state of emergency, she arranged delivery to customers to keep everyone connected and on track.
“It’s about connection,” she says. “What I choose supports good-quality food, a good farm and makes the future. In that way, food is life.”
For more information about Eatrip, visit bit.ly/eatripjournal-ig. Women of Taste is a monthly series looking at notable female figures in Japan’s food industry.