From exploring an iconic miso factory to eating a stunning kaiseki meal, chef Oliver Lange from Zuma shares the highlights of his trip to Kyoto, Japan.
With its kaiseki tradition and abundance of stunning, locally made products, Kyoto has become a culinary mecca among chefs in recent years, and it’s no different for Lange. (Keep an eye out later this week for intel on the rest of his travels.)
Here, Lange dishes on his favorite spots in Kyoto, from a miso pioneer to a three Michelin-starred restaurant.
“The whole menu at this pop-up bar and restaurant in the Gion district is rooted in sake and food pairings. When I visited, there was a cream cheese-filled amuse bouche with a yogurt-like sake. It was a great pairing. I also enjoyed tofu skin with okra and Parma ham (they ran out of wagyu!). It’s open until the end of this month, but the head sommelier Chizuko Niikawa-Helton lives in New York City where there is a sister location.”
“The old Kyoto style of cuisine relies on subtle flavors, but when it’s done right, you get perfection and it’s mind-blowing. That was the case at this three Michelin-starred restaurant from chef Yoshihiro Murata. For background, every year, he accepts 15 apprentices to work in his kitchen for eight months—the first three they spend learning Japanese during immersion lessons. Only once they can speak Japanese are they permitted in the kitchen. The restaurant is set apart by the presentation and the precision of the dishes along with the meticulous hospitality and service. Chef Murata came to see us during our meal and even gave a special tour of the kitchen.”
“This is one of the oldest katsuobushi (bonito) factories in the business, and it is responsible for inventing the dashi pack. Similar to a tea bag, these packs contain all the ingredients to make traditional Japanese stock: kombu (dried kelp), katsuobushi (dried and smoked skipjack tuna shaved into thin flakes), and iriko or niboshi (anchovies or sardines), or a combination of them. At Zuma, we created our own dashi pack with them, which is used at the restaurants worldwide.”
“This is the only place in the world making this kind of miso. Saikyo is sweeter with milder, creamier, almost honey-like notes, compared to other savory, salty misos. The Saikyo Miso company first invented this style hundreds of years ago and gave to the emperor at the time, who loved it and made them his official purveyor. At Zuma, we worked for over a year with the company to create a specific miso for our black cod dish.”