Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa of two-Michelin-starred restaurant Narisawa is a long-time proponent of sustainable gastronomy. Over a decade ago — before the concept was fashionable, the Japanese chef was an ardent advocate for sustainably grown ingredients that follow the hyper-local seasons in Japan.
Over the years, he has become synonymous with his self-coined ‘innovative Satoyama cuisine’ — “sato” means being part of a village or community and “yama” means forest in Japanese. Besides being a champion for indigenous ingredients, Narisawa uses his menu to highlight environmental issues. For example, his signature Soil Soup, which is made with burdock root fried with earth, highlights the importance of soil health.
Narisawa’s sense of environmental consciousness was ignited by a visit to his friend’s organic farm. Speaking to The Peak in Japanese through a translator, he says: “My friend’s farm was located next to a regular farm and the insects crossed over to his organic farm. If even insects didn’t want to consume crops grown with pesticides, why would humans want to?”
Related: Famed Japanese restaurant Narisawa to run debut residency in Singapore
Diners in Singapore can get a taste of Narisawa’s nature-drive concept at a five-week residency by Mandala Masters, a culinary programme run by private members club, The Mandala Club. The programme has a knack for attracting A-list chefs around the world, including Peruvian chef-couple Virgilio Martínez and Pia Léon, and maverick Indian chef Gaggan Anand.
Narisawa, which is ranked No. 10 on this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List, is known for its waiting list, which can stretch for months. As the Tokyo mothership, which turns 20 this year, is closed for renovations till May 27, Narisawa will be in town for the entire residency. A team of more than 20 staff, including chefs and service staff, is led by Narisawa’s son, Leo, who is also the restaurant manager.
The residency, which runs till 30 April, offers a eight or 12-course lunch, while dinner features 12 courses. Prices start from $518 for lunch and $748 for dinner. According to the organiser, dinner slots are almost full.
Compared to previous residencies, the dining space in the Mandala Club is more intimate with 36 seats. Anchoring the dimly-lit space is a portrait of a serene forest scene in Ishikawa Prefecture, where the chef has a long-standing relationship with the foragers. The same zen-like vibe perpetuates around the kitchen island in front of the dining area, where the finishing touches to each course are done.
My friend’s farm was located next to a regular farm and the insects crossed over to his organic farm. If even insects didn’t want to consume crops grown with pesticides, why would humans want to?
In the spirit of using locally-sourced ingredients, Narisawa has sourced for herbs and greens locally, while the duck comes from Malaysia.
In 2011, he brought a group of Japanese journalists to Borneo to show them the extent of deforestation caused by palm oil production. The trip also opened his eyes to rural village life. He recalls: “I was surprised by how simply the farmers lived and how they caught fish from swampy rivers. From that trip, I also explored cooking with rattan palm, which can be stripped down to its soft core, and cooking with banana leaves.”
“I was amazed by the variety of wild herbs and plants that can be foraged from deep in the forest, perhaps I might have some time to visit forests in Singapore,” he adds with a chuckle.
One reason why Narisawa is so keen on spotlighting environment issues is because he has felt the effects of global warming first-hand. He shares how it has resulted in a drop in seafood caught from the ocean off Japan. The supply of seafood such as abalone and crabs has been severely impacted as they take years to grow.
For his debut Singapore menu, Narisawa has incorporated a sprinkling of local fruit, herb and vegetables into his menu, such as rose apple, mangosteen and dragonfruit, and herbs and greens from Edible Garden City. Here’re some highlights from our meal at Narisawa’s residency here.
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