Tokyo’s latest trendsetting chef

Nobuaki Fushiki has coined the term ‘fermentation cuisine’. But what is it exactly?
Photo by Keisuke Tanigawa
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By Susan Low

The esteemed French chef Escoffier created haute cuisine; Nobu Matsuhisa birthed East-West fusion cooking; Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal put molecular gastronomy on the map. And now Tokyo-based chef Nobuaki Fushiki has coined a new gastronomic term, hakko-ryori: literally, ‘fermentation cuisine’. Could it be the next culinary new wave?

Hakko-ryori puts fermented ingredients to the fore. The dishes on the menu at informal restaurant Shiojiri Jozojo have a common denominator – they all harness the power of koji (Aspergillus oryzae), by using ingredients such as miso, mirin, sake, hishio (soybean paste), su (vinegar) and amazake to enhance the flavour of vegetables, grains, fish and meat – ultimately, to bring out the umami, the ‘deliciousness’ that’s so essential to Japanese food. Miso, shoyu and the other traditional ingredients have been used in Japanese cuisines for centuries, in some cases millennia.

But this 39-year-old chef takes it a step further than his peers, because he starts with the raw ingredients – rice, soybeans and koji – and ferments his own products from scratch. Lined up on the restaurant’s countertop are jars filled with mysterious potions in varying shades of brown – curious-looking (and smelling) products of his experimentation, which form the basis of his sauces and marinades. In the basement below the restaurant is his fermentation workshop, where he nurtures his koji-bred young charges to forthright maturity. These are flavours you won’t find elsewhere.

Fushiki moved into this restaurant in January 2014, but he started out doing a variety of cheffing jobs including stints at Italian and French restaurants – until the fermentation bug bit, and bit hard. ‘I lost my friends and family because I spent so much time with my fermentations,’ he laughs. Lean, lithe, quick to smile and tell a joke, he’s far from the po-faced, ascetic type one might associate with a self-avowed mould-fancier. Fushiki may have coined a new culinary term, but he’s keen to point out that what he’s doing is about preserving tradition.

He taught himself about fermentation by trial and error, he explains, largely because there wasn’t a Japanese chef who could teach him. The problem, he explains, is that traditional foods have gone out of fashion in Japan and there are only a few people who hold the key to the past. Traditional foods once made by hand, in the home, are now overwhelmingly factorymade. Hakko-ryori is a way of redressing the balance, in the hope that the traditional methods will not be lost.

Fushiki passes over his business card, which reads ‘kamose’ – meaning ‘let it ferment’. His career, it seems, is building up a lively, koji-powered head of steam. He’s already published several books and is soon to give a talk about fermentation at the Culinary Institute of America in San Francisco. There he’ll doubtless find a ready audience among the avid fermentation enthusiasts nicknamed ‘fermentos’, who are firmly committed to the kamose cause. ‘Hakko-ryori’, ‘Kamose cooking’ – they have a good ring to them, and it may just catch on.

Click here for review, map and contact details of Shiojiri Jozojo.

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