Turning Japanese

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In the 1985 John Hughes film, “The Breakfast Club”, Molly Ringwald’s character coolly unpacks an exotic bento box for lunch. “What’s that?” one of her fellow students asks. “Sushi… rice, raw fish and seaweed” she replies. Looks of confusion and disgust fill the room.

How times have changed.

Over three decades later, Japanese cuisine (which extends far beyond the aforementioned sushi) is now commonplace in mainstream supermarkets, on restaurant menus and even in convenience stores, like 7-Eleven.

One common thread among Japanese art, design, fashion and food, is a focus on mastery. Among Japan’s many artisans and creators, there is a relentless quest for perfection, setting the island apart from Eastern neighbors and Western counterparts.

Take for example the plate before you. What might appear to be an arbitrary smear of miso paste, is, in fact, a thoughtful and elegant mediation on movement. There is a beautiful choreography to the plating, at once both careful and reckless.

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EN Japanese Brasserie, a beautiful restaurant tucked away in Manhattan’s chic West Village, offers a modern approach to rich traditions. Keeping with custom, they cook in harmony with the seasons, and savor the peak flavor of ingredients. The result? A fresh take on authentic Japanese cuisine.

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Fear not. This type of refinement and attention to detail doesn’t end with your main course.

“Making chocolate is like meditation for me.” This is model-turned-patissier Kanami Kawaguchi’s minimalist, yet mindful mantra.

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A little over a decade ago, Kawaguchi moved to New York City to pursue a career in modeling. Not knowing a soul in the States, Kanami chose to immerse herself in American culture by watching the news, going to the movies, and even trying to make friends at open model castings. “Even though I couldn’t speak English”, Kanami tells me, “I still learned a lot”. In an effort to master the language, Kanami went so far as to avoid speaking in her native tongue. She wanted to experience the differences between cultures, no matter how nuanced. “I was curious about other countries, people’s behavior and different ways of thinking”, she recalls.

That open-minded approach can be tasted in her unique baking style as well. In an ironic twist of fate, Kanami herself is allergic to chocolate. However, that doesn’t keep her out of the kitchen. “Visually, I always think about Antelope Canyon in Arizona when mixing chocolate with heavy cream. And since I physically can’t taste (the chocolate), I imagine taste by smells and textures, instead.”  She’s also no stranger to unorthodox ingredients either and consequently, original blends. Inspiration can even stem from the most banal, everyday experiences – be it a bartender’s casual suggestion or a friend’s request for birthday chocolate.  “Those crazy ideas help to create new flavors.” Under one condition though, “if they asked me to make the crazy combination, then they have to taste it!”

Kanami can also draw on her past experience in the fashion world when concocting in the kitchen. “Both the fashion world and culinary world strive for the highest level of beauty. An important aspect is balance. Both worlds produce effortlessly glamorous products, but a great deal of effort goes into it.” Ultimately, fashion and food are great sources of both “inspiration” and “expression”.  “I imagine people who’ll eat my chocolates and that makes me happy.”

Words by Daniel Alonso / Images by Shell Royster

 

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