Into The Wild: Meet Yoshihiro Narisawa, The Chef Behind Sustainable Gastronomy
You won’t be hard-pressed to find a chef who embraces sustainability nowadays, but few express as much reverence for nature as chef Yoshihiro Narisawa. Known for his “Innovative Satoyama cuisine”, Narisawa was ahead of his time when he decided to focus on indigenous Japanese ingredients and hyper seasonality over a decade ago. The approach has earned him much acclaim and made him one of the most famous Japanese chefs worldwide (at the very least, you may have seen him on Netflix's Final Table as the head judge for the Japan episode).
At his eponymous restaurant—ranked 22nd on The World Best Restaurants 2019 list—the chef continues to refine his philosophy by going further into the wild. To connect diners to nature is his mantra, and he sees sustainable sourcing of ingredients as one a chef’s most sacred responsibilities.
Apart from traversing the landscape of Japan to find producers to work with as well as rediscover nature’s bounty, he has established another place to champion the cause: Bees Bar by Narisawa. Located a short walk from his restaurant in Tokyo's Minami-Aoyama district, the year-old cocktail bar proffers the same sustainable ethos as his fine dining restaurant, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.
The dim lighting, large wooden tables and photographs by Sergio Coimbra create a more casual feel but some things remain the same. Expect precise execution of cocktails, elevated bar snacks (don't miss the sumptuous Beef Hayashi rice and his amazing tartare sauce), as well as the same commitment to bringing the real forest to the urban jungle that is Tokyo. Here, he shares more about his new venture.
How has your approach evolved in the 15 years of running Restaurant Narisawa?
Yoshihiro Narisawa (YN) When I presented “Soil Soup” in 2001, a dish made from soil, burdock root and water, I seriously started to think about the importance of the food safety and our environment from the viewpoint of a chef. Since then, I’ve been visiting many producers and places around Japan. This made me realise that the natural environment is really in danger. In 2010, I presented the theme “Sustainable Gastronomy” in order to contribute something to (the preservation of) the environment.
Eating local has become a very big movement. What should we do next?
YN I believe that eating local is not just a trend—it’s a very important issue for the earth. It is beneficial for the environment and is also good for our mind and body. Therefore, instead of finding the next big thing, we should continue eating and cooking local.
You travel all around Japan to find the best producers and farmers. Can you share a secret discovery with us?
YN Every country has many fantastic producers but usually, they are not that good at promoting their products. Therefore, we chefs should visit as many producers as we can in order to find and champion fantastic ones. Currently, I’m very interested in wild ingredients that blossom naturally. I try to find such wild ingredients here in Japan as well as abroad. My first book, to be published by Taschen this year, will be full of my natural discoveries complemented by images by Brazilian photographer Sergio Coimbra.
You surprised people when you opened Bees Bar by Narisawa last year. What inspired you to "go the casual route"?
YN One reason is so that our guests at Restaurant Narisawa can have another place to enjoy aperitifs and digestifs. The other reason is the inherent relationship between the forest and alcohol. Alcohol is connected with the forest, so I thought that I could provide cocktails based on this theme.
What has been your most memorable night at the bar and what can we expect to eat and drink when we visit?
YN I think that every night that guests come to Bees Bar to enjoy cocktails and relax is a fantastic everyday memory. That’s how I created the place to be. For me, however, the most memorable night was when I celebrated my 50th birthday and the bar’s 1st anniversary with my staff and their families.