Whisky Magazine Issue 92
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Dave Broom discovers eating and drinking with a seasonal twist
n the West, kaiseki is variously translated as ‘Japanese haute cuisine' or (worse still) ‘fine dining'. You can understand the need for food writers to try and codify types of cooking, but by trying to find an equivalent in a food culture which has for centuries followed a French template, the essence of kaiseki is, inevitably, lost or misunderstood. By being reduced to the idea of a ‘banquet' where 14 or more courses are presented to the diner over an evening, the impression is of a culinary blowout, an orgy of tastes and dishes which end up with the diner feeling gorged. Of course, this is precisely the opposite of the intention of the kaiseke chef.
Sitting cross-legged on tatami as the gentle procession of small dishes pass before you, is to experience food not as the taking on of protein and carbohydrate but as meditation.
A dream-like quality begins to overwhelm the diner as jewel like arrangements are laid down, removed, replaced. The slow, steady rhythm (and only after experiencing kaiseki at its finest do you realise how timing is vital to the creation of this effect) makes this less a meal and more a sensory feast.
Western diners are brought up on the idea of flavours being given impact often by being placed in opposition to each other, whereas in kaiseki the aim is to create harmony with aromas, tastes and textures working together. It's not right and wrong, but simply different ways of achieving complexity and just as the western chef needs to be careful n...