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.