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Chefs : 2009
189 BORDERS stock, made from kelp (kombu) and bonito flakes (katsuobushi) which Ikeda successfully isolated. The flavour it describes is common to such savoury products as meat, cheese, and mushrooms; in fact, nearly a century earlier, Brillat-Savarin's had described it as osmazome, which was his early attempt to encapsulate the main flavoring component of meat as extracted in the stock-making process. But it is in Asian cuisines such as Japan's, where meat and meaty flavours play a much smaller part, that the understanding of umami as a taste with its own specific receptors---and hence the necessity of catering specifically to them---has become integral. EAST MEETS WEST Of course there is much more to it than seaweed and fish flakes. We have seen that the integration of Japanese flavours and techniques with those of the west have proved remarkably successful for chefs like Nobu Matsuhisa and Tetsuya Wakuda. But these both ply their trade away from their native land. What is it that accounts for the Tokyo chefs' new-found success? For an answer to that we might look to Kiyomi Mikuni, regarded by diners, critics and fellow chefs alike as perhaps the most innovative and talented non-traditional Japanese chef currently at work. Born in Hokkaido, the son of a fisherman, Mikuni set out at a young age, going first to Sapporo and then to the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Later he made his way to Geneva to take a job at the Japanese Embassy, and it was in Geneva that he encountered French cuisine. He was hooked, and spent the next eight years working under some of the greatest French chefs; like Ducasse, Mikuni found himself a disciple of Alain Chapel whom, like Ducasse, he still considers his true master. But he was not destined to remain in France, and in1985 Mikuni returned to Japan and opened his own restaurant, incorporating elements from both French and Japanese traditions. "As a chef, I specialise in French cuisine," Mikuni says, "but I am also Japanese and a native of Hokkaido, which is an area famous for its kombu. The basis of my cuisine is French, but, in adding my Japanese sense of taste with umami, I have developed and original cuisine style. Umami, continuing from the four tastes of the west---sweet, salty, bitter, sour---makes a fifth, Japanese-born taste." To accompany grilled fish, for example, Mikuni might serve a risotto of made with green peas and traditional dashi stock, or blend the flavours of rosemary and chervil with maitake (a perfumed mushroom) and a Japanese herb called kaiware. In fact, he owes his fame to the skillful mingling of two very different cuisines. It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that all or even many of Tokyo's great chefs have French cuisine as the basis of their cooking. Michelin's Jean-Luc Naret has spoken of "a tradition passed on from generation to generation and refined by today's chefs," and of the nine three-star restaurants, four serve traditional Japanese cuisine and two are sushi bars. Nor are Michelin fastidious about applying standards of decor, ambiance or even facilities. Located near a subway exit in the basement of an office building, the three-star Sukiyabashi Jiro does not even have its own bathroom. The restaurant is tiny, seating only about 20 people at its counter and tables; still, it is the stuff of sushi legend. Chef Jiro Ono is considered a national treasure, and his chefs make their way each day to the huge Tsukiji fish market, a short walk away, and return with only the best and freshest. In stark contrast, Hamadaya is located in a former geisha house in an older Tokyo neighbourhood, and the services of geisha are still offered as part of the dining experience. The food is elegant classical Japanese cuisine, with a strong emphasis on seasonal elements, the finest ingredients and service on beautiful dishes. Such are the choices available in the world's new culinary capital, and with an estimated 160,000 restaurants in the city, it is possible for the committed diner to find anything and everything inbetween. Opposite: Jiro Ono, 81-year-old master sushi chef, shows off his famously soft hands, one of the secrets to his renowned sushi, in front of Ono's sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, in Tokyo, Japan. Sukiyabashi Jiro was awarded three Michelin stars in 2007.