Japanese chef Yamamoto takes tradition to new limits

Mon Feb 16, 2009 10:18pm EST
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By Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Internationally acclaimed Japanese chef Seiji Yamamoto, who has had CT scans performed on sea eels to study their bone structure, is determined to take traditional cuisine to new limits.

Yamamoto has wowed international cooking forums with techniques such as silk-screening a barcode for mobile phones onto a plate using squid ink. A signature dessert dish includes powdery ice cream made with liquid nitrogen.

But his restaurant "Ryugin" in Tokyo also boasts classic Japanese "kaiseki" dishes -- charcoal-grilled sweetfish in the summer and soups with fragrant matsutake mushrooms in the autumn.

The soups include pieces of sea eel, whose small bones must be chopped finely. Thanks to the CT scan, Yamamoto now chops the bones at precise angles to give the eel a smoother texture.

Yamamoto, 38, spoke to Reuters in Tokyo on the sidelines of a recent gastronomy summit where he showed off his creations along with top chefs Joel Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire:

Q: What were you able to learn from the CT scan?

A: I wanted to see what a cross-section of a sea eel's bones looked like. We learned that the bones in the eel grow at an angle, meaning that if you put the knife in straight, you create an edge with the cut. You need to slant the knife, then you can cut the bones at a 90-degree angle.

Q: You've talked about the evolution of Japanese cuisine. How do you see Japanese food going forward?   Continued...

<p>Japanese chef Seiji Yamamoto explains his cooking techniques during "The best of Gastronomy", a four day cooking conference in San Sebastian November 23, 2006. REUTERS/Vincent West</p>