Food is often described as a work of art and the chef behind it as an artist, but Takashi Yagihashi’s creativity extends beyond the beautiful meals he serves at his eponymous Bucktown restaurant. Turns out, the chef’s artistic abilities leaned toward floral design long before the cooking bug bit. “There was a classmate of mine when I was a child in Mito, Japan, whose family owned a flower shop, and I just fell in love,” Yagihashi says. “Later, I took lessons in Tokyo in ikebana, the Japanese art of floral design.”
When the chef describes ikebana, his voice grows even softer than usual, almost wistful and dreamy as he explains that it’s a spiritual experience with a goal of becoming one with nature, and that the act of creating is just as important as the end result. Aside from using varieties of flowers often not available in the States, ikebana incorporates branches, moss and buds, and aims for asymmetry, partly by threading the flowers with wire to create shapes known collectively as kenzan.
Although Yagihashi ultimately chose the kitchen as a career, he honed his cooking skills while putting himself through interior-design school in Tokyo. He might be more concerned about his dining room’s appearance than other chefs, but he’s just too busy to do his restaurant’s flower arrangements these days (he’s entrusted that job to nearby shop Larkspur and admits he’s a picky customer). “Someday I hope to have enough time to do them myself,” he says. “In such a tiny space, you are using flowers and a vase and creating a whole world. It’s a very beautiful feeling, but it’s one that cannot be rushed.”