Kikunoi is a first-class restaurant located in a place surrounded by greenery near Yasaka Shrine, a famous landmark in Kyoto. The restaurant was founded in the first year of the Taisho era. It attracts attention not only from Japanese people, but also from gourmets around the world. Yoshihiro Murata, its third-generation owner, currently manages four restaurants: Kikunoi, which has recently received a threestar rating in the "Michelin Guide Kansai 2020", and two more restaurants, Kikunoi Akasaka and Kikunoi Roan, both awarded two Michelin stars. We interviewed Mr. Murata about his great impressive achievements.
Could you tell us your thoughts about your various awards?
I've been trying to spread Japanese cuisine to the world, so I'm grateful. As a chef, I think it's very difficult to be successful at world level.
What kind of path have you taken so far?
My grandfather and father were both chefs and I am the third generation. Actually, I didn't want to follow that path, so when I was a student I decided to cook French food and went to Paris. However, I was shocked to learn that Japanese food is seen as an ethnic food made by Oriental people in Paris. After that, I returned to Japan with a strong sense of responsibility, saying, "I need to make Japanese food recognised by the world." 48 years ago, Europeans really didn't know anything about Japanese food. Since then, I have taken on various challenges while running my own restaurants, always thinking about how to get people around the world to better recognise Japanese cuisine.
What do you think is the reason that Japanese food is recognised around the world?
Alain Ducasse, a well-known French chef, said, "French cuisine has been registered [as intangible cultural heritage] because it is a French gastronomy. Only Japanese cuisine can be registered as intangible cultural heritage like French cuisine. Murata should lead the project for achieving the registration." Those words have been at the forefront of my activities. And finally the registration was successful. There are 4 reasons. Firstly, Japanese cuisine reflects the emotions of the four seasons in its cuisine. Secondly, we value the ingredients. Thirdly, the nutritional balance is very good. Fourthly, it is very closely related to the lives of ordinary people. In Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, on the first morning of the New Year, we eat ozoni, a soup containing mochi. There seem to be no people in the world who habitually eat the same food at the same time, and this is also a culture that needs to be preserved.
Japanese Food and Art has something in common
For Japanese people, the best treat is the image in your head. Japanese food not only comprises the food on the plate itself, but also the combination of dishes served and the furnishings of the space. For example, in the case of tsukimizen, choose a plate and arrange it so that you can imagine chrysanthemums blooming in the full moon. Then the customer feels that the hot summer is finally over, and it's getting cooler as autumn has come. It is important to be able to imagine that. For example, chestnuts and ginkgo are used as ingredients, and arranged so that you can imagine the scene. There are always axes and pictures in the room, and the letters on the axes match the dishes. Japanese food is 30% food, 30% service, and 40% air. The art of Japanese cuisine includes all the vessels and the space itself.
It's not just the food itself, but everything is Japanese cuisine once you set foot in the restaurant. What in your opinion is the standard for a full-fledged chef?
Anyone can practice the techniques of cutting, simmering, and frying food, but even if you practice, it's hard to learn the ability to observe. Observing the power of nature. The colours of the spring sky and the summer sky are different, and the leaves in May and the leaves in August are different even if they are the same shade of green. In order to be aware of these things, it is very important to look at things deliberately and to see and hear a wide variety of things in addition to learning cooking techniques.
Observing nature and consciously observing things are the basis of a chef’s training. Now, with the coronavirus, chefs are making various efforts to keep restaurants open.
I believe the pandemic will probably last for a year or more. I've gradually come to know what kind of measures should be taken to prevent infection. If the store is closed for about half a year, it will be forgotten and it will be very difficult to revive it, so I hope that it will continue to operate. This is the time we need to stay patient. If we overcome this period, the time when customers suddenly return will surely come, so let's all work together until then.