Mr. Takuji Takahashi is the third-generation owner of Ryotei Kinobu. He has been promoting Shojin-ryori together with the members of Kyoto Cuisine Mebaekai Association since 2015, when the association launched a program called "To the World of Shojin-ryori" on the 60th anniversary of its establishment. He strives to make Shojin-ryori according to his customer's request at his Ryotei. He is going to tell us about Shojin-ryori through five features including "What is his idea of Shojin-ryori?" "How did Shojin-ryori develop and what did he feel about Shojin-ryori?".
*Kyoto Cuisine Mebaekai Association
The association was established in 1955 to hand down sophisticated and traditional Kyoto-style food culture to the next generation. Many young Ryotei owners have been devoting themselves to studying and researching Kyoto cuisine. They also have been trying a variety of new ideas putting into Kyoto cuisine.
We, professional chefs, cook Shojinryori as an expert, which is definitely different from how Tenzo cook. Tenzo only focus on Zen practices so that their attitudes towards cooking become different from us. Then, what I first think of is taste. I think we shouldn't forget to make dishes delicious. That is something we, cooking experts, can only achieve.The key element of deliciousness is surely "umami". The essence of Washoku is broth made from dried bonito and kelp. "Umami" cannot exist without these two ingredients. However, in Shojinryori , we cannot use dried bonito, one of the key ingredients for "Umami". When I first started making Shojinryori , I thought about how to bring out "Umami" a lot and tried various ways such as smoking soy beans.
After trial and error, I found that adding a twist on broth made from kelp can bring out of intensive umami flavor.
For kelp broth, it is usual to cook kelp in 65 degree water. However, lowering the temperature up to 58 degrees can bring out of its sweetness. Sweetness is often considered to be umami.
Cooking kelp in 58 degree water for about an hour and half can extract a thickener more than in 65 degree water, which will make the broth sweeter.This thickness can make the broth more tasty and keep aftertaste of umami longer. Keeping the aftertaste of umami and sweetness to a certain extent can bring out umami that is different from that of dried bonito but still makes the broth tasty.
Besides this, adding a slight flavor of soy beans when cooking small taros, and adding small amount of dried parts of the vegetable that are usually not eaten after cooking a vegetable can also bring out umami. For example, use dried reddish leaves as a seasoning for a dish made with a white radish.
Why do I make such efforts? I prioritize enhancing the aroma and flavors of the ingredients. Increase both the aroma and flavors. This can bring out the full flavor of the ingredients themselves and make up for the simple flavor of kelp broth.
As you let us, professional chefs to make Shojinryori for you, we have to decide how to utilize our expertise, haven't we? Compared to Tenzo who work at temples, we have considerably high-level cooking techniques. Cooking is something that we only do every day. To be honest, I am not good at anything except cooking. Therefore, I emphasize on utilizing the cooking techniques that only professional chefs can have.
One of them is cutting techniques. For example, when cooking a turnip, we can cut the turnip to make the face of each cut look very shiny. That is called "Mentori (removing the corners from vegetables)"
After cutting vegetables including white radishes and cooking them, these vegetables can absorb broth well, become soft, and provide excellent textures. Textures are an essential element of food too.
Another essential element is presentation. A turnip is perfectly cut and then cooked for a just enough time, and arranged nicely on a lacquerware. This looks impressively beautiful. It is important to make a dish delicious and look nicely, as well as it has a nice flavor, texture, and aftertaste. Cooking techniques for Shojinryori and other dishes are not so different for us.
However, when we keep in mind what we live for and why we have to eat while you are cooking, we will become an amateur chef without doubt. On the other hand, Tenzo who work at temples become an expert when they think of such questions during cooking. I think that it is very important to have the both characters, an amateur and expert at the same time.As I mentioned about presentation, I would like to talk about it in details next time.
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