A cuisine with an Italian heart, in Japan
There’s more than kaiseki: in Japan, an association of chefs and restaurateurs, promotes Italian cuisine and charity projects in Italy and locally.
Since 1993, in Kyoto, there’s an association that promotes the study and practice of Italian cuisine. It’s called the Kyoto Italian Cuisine Study Association, and was founded by Masami Kawakami of the Tanto Tanto restaurant, together with other Italian restaurant owners including Noboru Nasu of Casa Bianca and Takemasa Watanabe of Ca’ del Viale.
In what was the imperial capital for over a millennium, there’s more than the kaiseki ritual – the culinary ceremony associated with the most elegant form of Japanese cuisine.
Indeed local restaurateurs show a great love for Italian cuisine. According to the current president, Yasunori Wada, chef at bistro Il Filo, when the association was first born “we met mainly to swap information and techniques on the cooking of a country we all love so much. We always thought that Japan, which is geographically and culturally very distant from your country, had a lot to learn from you”.
A quarter of a century later, the association has 25 Italian restaurants, 40 members in total, including wine producers and importers. Their mission has become increasingly ambitious over time: “To create recipes with sustainable, locally available ingredients, from often forgotten rural areas.
And to improve technologies and culinary knowledge through the Italian example”. A founding philosophy inspired by the Slow Food farming concepts. These gatherings take place four times a year and, despite being held after 11:00 p.m., when the restaurants have closed, they regularly attract hundreds of people.
The association is also determined to play a strong charitable role: “In recent years”, says Wada-san, “we have promoted several charity projects, refresher courses and fund-raising activities for people affected by earthquakes. In both countries: L’Aquila in 2009, Tōhoku in 2011, Kumamoto in 2014 and Amatrice in 2016. We organise cooking lessons, often with child care services”.
Chefs who are really making their mark, combining the development of cooking techniques with sustainability and charity.
Straddling two countries that are so far, yet so close.