What is Kaiseki?
Kaiseki : Japanese Haute Cuisine in Perfection
Countless people in Europe love Japanese cuisine. Sushi bars and curry restaurants, fine gourmet temples, fast food kitchens and several other manifestations of Japanese culinary arts and hospitality have long since conquered the hearts and palates of gourmets from London to Paris and Berlin to smaller cities on the continent. Of course, this also applies to Frankfurt. It probably applies to you too?
Then please allow us to ask you a question: How would you react if we told you that, despite the diversity of your experiences, you had not even begun to taste the true delights of Japanese cuisine, indeed, that you had at most only a hint of it so far? Would you believe that? Or would you rather be annoyed by our presumption? Well, then we will rather ask differently: Have you ever heard of Kaiseki?
Only those who have experienced Kaiseki really know Japan’s cuisine.
Kaiseki does not refer to a specific dish or recipe. Nor does it refer to a famous Japanese chef. Rather, Kaiseki is the term for a centuries-old tradition of Japanese cuisine and culinary hospitality in the land of the Rising Sun.
A tradition that goes back directly to Zen monks in the 16th century and whose roots can be traced back to the middle period of the Shang dynasty.
Literally translated, the term means “breast-pocket stone”. According to a popular interpretation, this refers to the habit of Zen monks to suppress their hunger by wearing hot stones under their robes. The warmth soothed the monks’ stomachs, which were churning from fasting, during their meditations.
Later, kaiseki became the generic term for a sequence of light vegetarian dishes eaten in Japan during the tea ceremony and for which the aesthetic presentation is most important. In this case, the term tea-kaiseki or chakaiseki is still used today.
Independent of tea kaiseki, however, kaiseki itself has developed over the last three hundred years of Nippon’s history into its own philosophy of cuisine and hospitality, a kind of Japanese haute cuisine. At the heart of this philosophy are four important elements.
The four central elements of Kaiseki
– A menu of up to eleven courses, where the chef follows a traditional order and adds his own creative touches.
– The consumption of sake or alcoholic beverages to further promote well-being.
– Conviviality, as Kaiseki is by definition a communal experience that always brings people together.
– Omotenashi, the unity of sight, feeling and heart, a Japanese metaphor for the perfect hospitality.
Fresh and strictly seasonal ingredients are very important in the composition of the menu.
Many chefs also adhere to a canon of unwritten laws, according to which a Kaiseki must always include, for example, a simmered dish, a grilled dish and a steamed dish, in order to integrate the range of all preparation methods.
Creativity is also important, however, because surprise courses are often part of the round.
With kaiseki, what is always true in upscale gastronomy also counts to a greater extent: the eye also eats. Kaiseki menus are complete works of art.
The chef and his cooks arrange each course and each intermediate position as aesthetic compositions that are coordinated down to the finest details. Even the tableware varies in colour and materiality on a scale from untreated clay to exquisite hand-painted porcelain.
Kaiseki demands the whole heart of the host
As mentioned earlier, Omotenashi – the unity of sight, feeling and heart – plays a special role in the Kaiseki style of cooking. It is a philosophy that governs the thinking of every employee, anticipating the guest’s every need before they are even aware of it.
In other words, the employees are constantly striving to fully satisfy the guest as an individual and taking into account their particularities. Omotenashi is a challenge for all employees, from the chef to the restaurant manager to the service assistant.
It requires excellent mastery, a high level of attention and, in some cases, years of experience to master the skills required to achieve it.
We hope that with our brief introduction to Kaiseki we have been able to give you an understanding of this tradition of Japanese culinary culture, which has been rather unknown in Europe until now. However, as no explanation can replace a personal impression, we would be delighted to welcome you and your business associates or groups of friends to Frankfurt soon.
At Nihonryori KEN Frankfurt – one of the first restaurants in Europe where you can enjoy Kaiseki the traditional way.