Summit series executive chef Harutaka Kishi has an appreciation for meeting locals over simple good food. (Photos: Ian Rowan and Wayne Price courtesy of Summit Series, LLC)
Harutaka Kishi once spent 12 days in the Kenyan dessert, cooking whole animals over an open fire, asada-style, and roasting ash-covered vegetables in the ground. The chef speaks excitedly about the experience – one that he says defines the way that he cooks.
“I like meeting the locals, the people using the local ingredients, and just cooking,” Kishi says. “No ego in the food, and really trying to provide good food that’s nourishing that will bring people together – something simple, just simple and good.”
Bringing people together through food is actually Kishi’s job as executive chef of Summit Series, a community of global thought leaders from across a range of disciplines from art to technology. He is tasked with feeding these minds through their stomachs in a variety of venues from atop a mountain in Utah to an entire cruise ship. It’s aboard this cruise ship, during Summit at Sea, that Marriott TRAVELER meets Kishi, while he’s preparing an immersive tasting experience for guests hosted by Marriott Rewards.
I like meeting the locals, the people using the local ingredients, and just cooking.
“So, the original idea was eggs on eggs on eggs, and it had eggs and uni and caviar, but I had some problems sourcing the ingredients,” explains Kishi, who couldn’t get uni or caviar aboard the ship. “I’ve been going through all the kitchens, going through all the drawers, and I found the Iberico ham…so that was definitely the prize…now I have eggs and Iberico, and I also have some gold flakes. Because it’s so decadent, I named the dish the ‘Benedict Goes Ham.'”
If you are a breakfast-for-dinner kind of person, this dish ticks off all the boxes and then some. A small savory pancake is the vessel for his prized ham and perfectly poached egg dusted with gold flakes. It meets Kishi’s simple and good credo.
Kishi’s culinary journey started simple in a small Tokyo restaurant and later his family’s Japanese restaurant in Paris. From there he trained under some of the world’s most notable chefs like Joel Robuchon at Le Chateau in Tokyo and later with Gordon Ramsey of reality TV fame at a series of Ramsey’s restaurants between Tokyo, France and L.A., finally becoming executive chef of Chaya in Beverly Hills.
Kishi says his food is based on this journey and the cooking he was able to do in each destination. So we asked him to share more about his favorite foodie locations and what’s next in the world of food.
[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]
As executive chef for Summit, you are based in Utah. Tell me about the food scene there.
I live in a small town called Eden, it’s the hometown of Powder Mountain, the ski resort that Summit purchased a few years that ago ended up being a village on top of a mountain. It’s amazing having this wide open space. There’s land where we can ski in the winter and do so many activities throughout the year, from hiking to camping to foraging in the month of June for bluebells that I plant that taste like spinach, to making infused whiskey with the pine cones of the blue spruce trees.
I host dinner at home or Summit hosts events, a gathering of a few hundred people, and I get to really cook and do pretty much whatever I want. There’s no menu involved; it kind of breaks away from the typical restaurant set up, so it’s a lot of fun. You can really let your creativity go.
I was very lucky to be in Tulum, Mexico, and that was one of the most amazing culinary experiences I've had.
What cities or places are doing food in a way that’s really inspiring to you? Is there a place that you feel like you have to go back to again and again?
Well, this year I was very lucky to be in Tulum, Mexico, and that was one of the most amazing culinary experiences I’ve had. The produce there was just so good. You had the fruit stands where the older fruit is sitting outside, and they’re not particularly beautiful looking, they’re kind of all rough and beat up. You have those green, dark brown, and spotted oranges, but you slice them, and you bite into them, and they are so sweet. They have so much juice and you really taste the local flavor. And the lime is such a different product down there; it has nothing to do with the lime you get here. I ate ceviche and I was wondering why it was so good; it’s because the lime is so tasty. It’s less acidic, has more juice, more flavor; and their scent was just amazing. It’s the really simple ingredients that elevate the entire culinary experience.
Do you get back to Japan often and where do you have to go to taste a truly local experience?
I was there for three weeks and I went camping in the mountains and went by the beach. I spent a few days in Tokyo and the culinary experience was just amazing. You have to visit some of those really old restaurants that have been doing the same dish for generations and generations.
There’s one that’s my favorite; an omelet shop, in Tsukiji, the fish market. They sell their omelet for $1, and they are super famous, with a line out the door. They have an entire production where there’s about eight chefs just cranking Tamagoyaki, the name of the omelet, all day long.
It’s amazing. You have stacks of cases and cases of eggs, and they just crack the eggs and make the batter and they cook the eggs in square pans. There’s a belt where you drop the pan; it rolls down to the beginning of the line where the chef grabs the pan and oils it, pours the egg batter, then folds it and passes it down to his colleague who’s going to do the second fold. It’s amazing to see the production.
There are a lot of innovators associated with Summit who are thinking about the next big thing in technology or other global issues, but what’s next in the world of food?
We have a few partners—Real Coconut, JugoFresh, Wanderfuel and others – I call them the superfood partners, and these are really people that are pushing the boundaries of nutrition. They really understand how the body works, how to take care of your body, and what the really good ingredients are to get healthy. During Summit at Sea, I had the chance to work with three of them creating their smoothie bars, super fruit bowls or salad, or breakfast items.
There are certain ingredients I’ve never heard of. I didn’t know there were over 20 different variations of coconut product, you know? It’s crazy. Coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut tortilla, coconut tortilla chips, coconut flour, coconut meat, shredded coconut, shredded coconut chips, coconut bacon, coconut jerky…. It’s crazy! It’s like, coconut oil, coconut brain octane, it goes on and on and on.