KYOTO -- "What matters the most in washoku (Japanese cuisine) is the dashi, which is soup stock taken from seaweed and dried bonito flakes," insists Yoji Satake, executive chef at the 300-year-old washoku restaurant Minokichi in this ancient capital.
Satake served fine Japanese cuisine to Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck at a Japanese event held in May in Rome. Heinz -- said to be a child of Italy's modern cuisine revolution -- praised Satake, stating, "Now I understand the quintessence of washoku."
Satake was born as the second son of the founding family of the Minokichi restaurant. While his older brother took over the managership, Yoji has worked in the kitchen. Although Yoji had a different plan in mind, he went through harsh training for three years at "Hyotei," a washoku restaurant in Nanzen-ji in Kyoto after graduating university to meet his family's expectations. Working in the kitchen was even harder for him when he came back to Minokichi due to suspicious looks from other chefs who doubted he had the necessary culinary skills as the son of the manager.
However, Satake decided to train vigorously to improve his skills after talking to another chef, and found out that he was not the only one having a hard time. Satake maintained his hard work and was appointed by the JA Group Kyoto to be in charge of cooking in a project to make Kyoto vegetables a worldwide brand. He was also the head chef at a dinner party held in the famous Palace of Versailles, France.
One year after washoku was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013, Satake even appeared in a documentary film titled "Washoku Dream." At Expo 2015 held in Milan, a long line formed in front of the Japan pavilion to taste Satake's washoku. The chef also plans to join a food festival in Turkey to serve Japanese cuisine in September.
A note on a post near his bed when he was training at Hyotei read, "I will become a world class chef."
Satake is now well known throughout the world as an evangelist of washoku.
(Japanese original by Tatsuya Tamaki, Osaka Editorial Division)