Chefs seek the freshest seafood in Tokyo. (Photo: Courtesy of The Ritz Carlton)


The Art of Japanese Cuisine: Why Sushi and Sake Are Just the Beginning

Chefs throughout Japan seek the freshest seafood for their dishes. (Photo: Courtesy of The Ritz Carlton)

Across Japan, chefs at The Ritz-Carlton consider every component of the dishes they create to ensure that only the finest, freshest ingredients are incorporated into dishes that also pay deep respect to the region in which they’re served.

Tokyo: Source-to-Table Sushi and Local Sake

(Photo: Courtesy of The Ritz Carlton)

Sushi chef de cuisine Tadaaki Nomura works with only select fishermen and dealers at Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market, to determine which catches best represent the most-desired internal and external qualities — the ideal of which is known as kata.

Chef Nomura’s philosophy, following a source-to-table concept, is for chefs at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo to create each day’s menu based off that morning’s selections and the freshest seasonal local produce. By following this philosophy, the menu of edomae sushi marries a minimalist approach with a diversity of flavors, no matter the season.

At Hinokizaka restaurant, the sake sommelier’s recommended choice is locally produced as well. As he discusses the tradition and innovation of the Sawanoi brand, which is brewed in the countryside of west Tokyo by a company that dates back to 1702, both the senses and intellect of guests are piqued.

Osaka: Simplicity, Quality and Refinement

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Sushi is more than fish, of course: The word itself is derived from su, Japanese for vinegar, and shi, from meshi, for rice. The sushi masters at Hanagatami at The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka performed a blind tasting of 10 different kinds of rice to select the one that would be used in the Japanese restaurant’s sushi.

The restaurant now partners with a single rice farmer, whose winning variety is grown in a paddy that’s exposed to a wide range of temperatures and high-quality water — ideal situations for rice cultivation.

The water used to boil the rice also was put to the test, comparing three different varieties before deciding on one sourced from a spring in the same area as the rice paddy. The result, chefs say, is “exquisite combination with a refined flavor.”

Kyoto: Finding Divine Inspiration

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The presentation of dishes, too, can be inspired by local landmarks and destinations. Chef Masahiro Miura of Kaiseki Mizuki restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto was so moved by the city’s many Zen temples and karesansui dry gardens, which are created using rock and sand, that he was inspired to mimic their appearance.

Miura’s “karesansui sashimi” positions fresh seasonal vegetables and sashimi such as hamo and katsuo atop crushed ice that mirrors the sand of the Zen garden at the Daisen-in temple, while other segments of arched ice represent the garden’s impenetrable horaisan mountain.

It’s a treat as much for the eyes as the appetite, paired with a private-label sake exclusively for guests of Mizuki that the hotel chefs helped to develop in 2015, planting rice in southern Kyoto, collaborating with brewers in Fushimi on the sake formula, and even designing the bottle itself.

Okinawa: Where the Tropics Meet the Classics

The cuisine on Okinawa is known for incorporating regional delicacies that thrive in its warm, subtropical environment. (The nation’s southernmost prefecture sits more than 950 miles south of Tokyo.) At Gusuku restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa, bitter melon, sweet mango and pineapple brighten dishes such as champurū, a stir-fry that takes its name from Okinawan for “something mixed,” while the rich, earthy flavor of locally grown Agu pork enriches shabu-shabu.

On Okinawa the indigenous beverage is awamori, which is distilled instead of brewed, making it more akin to shochu than sake. During awamori tastings at The Ritz-Carlton, an expert guides guests through the beverage’s history on the island while they sample different flavors of the liquor, which has been celebrated and nurtured over the centuries by Okinawan culture.

This article originally appeared in Journey Into the Ritz-Carlton.