Monday, June 05, 2006

Kaiseki Chronicles #3

It’s been almost two months since our kaiseki place opened. Many things have changed already, which was kind of expected. I guess that is the way it is in the beginning stage at most of newly-opened shops/restaurants. More than half of the waitresses left and now the newcomers are trying hard to get used to their new work environment. One of the cooks already left, too.

Meanwhile, I discovered some new things about kaiseki cooking in the past two months. One of the new discoveries was the way traditional Japanese chefs use special chopsticks for putting foods in serving bowls or on plates. The chopsticks are longer than regular eating chopsticks, and they have extremely pointy tips. They are called “moritsuke-bashi” and they look like this.  

When I saw the cooks using the moritsuke-bashi, I understood why they say, “If you are clumsy with chopsticks, you can never be a good Japanese chef.” Often in traditional Japanese cuisine, just a mouthful amount of food is elegantly placed in a teeny-tiny serving bowl and topped with things like a few flower petals or extremely thin strips of citrus rind, etc. I used to think that arranging foods that way must be easier with fingers or a tweezer-like tool than chopsticks, but I was wrong. Fingertips are not pointy enough, and sometimes tweezer-like tools cannot easily release what they picked up. In that sense, I think chopsticks are really something, and I respect those who can use them skillfully. (As you might already know, I’m helplessly clumsy with chopsticks.) Those skillful people must have some extra nerves in their fingers… or maybe I'm lacking some of the nerves that should be there...

It is unfortunate that the kitchen staff do most of the preparations in the daytime before I come to work and I cannot see how they cut/season foods. One thing I really want to learn is how they make dashi stock. I like the taste of simmered dishes they serve at this kaiseki place now, and I think dashi stock is the key. They don’t seem to be using extremely expensive kelp or bonito flakes -- the difference must be in the technique. That’s the secret I want to steal…

BTW, I have a question to those who work/used to work at restaurants. At your workplace, are kitchen staff allowed to bring their cell phones into the kitchen and use them when not busy? I don't mean to say it is a good or bad thing to do; I'm just curious.


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16 comments:

Crazy Gaijin said...

Hey there again Obachan,
You are right about the long pointy hashi - I find them next to impossible to use! I have a pair of the normal cooking hashi, and find them difficult to use - so the pointy ones are even harder to manipulate.
I went to an AMAZING sake bar (well, that is what I call it. My Japanese friends call it an izekaya. I suppose they're right, but the wall of different sake bottles is what gives me my impression!) It was in Umeda, and next time I go there, I will definitely take photos. The food was great, and I sat where I could see the master behind the bar at work preparing the food. He had moritsuke-bashi and his skill was INCREDIBLE! I have so much respect.....

Randi said...

the recipe is now posted for the chicken and dumplings!! Enjoy.

Mr Food said...

I just finished editing an English language kaiseki cook book by famous chef Murata of Kikunoi restaurant in Kyoto, it will be coming out in Japan at the end of this month I believe. Anyway Murata gives explicit instructions on his special technique to make dashi. The book is full of gorgeous photos and a lot of interesting info. It will cost about 4,500 yen in Japan I believe, so save your 1en dama

About cell phones in the the kitchen we were always too busy to use them, except at breaktime.
If people are using them during work, seems like the chori-cho is not running a very tight ship.

ghanima said...

Ah, the age-old dashi question. I too, have had to content myself with dashi-no-moto, but it's better than nothing. Sadly, the selection of Japanese food in Toronto is pitiful.

Christa said...

Obachan,
Your blog is wonderful! I'm looking forward to reading more.
Thanks for stopping by my blog today.

Crazy Gaijin said...

Hi again Obachan. Sorry to comment about a comment left on your blog, but can I ask Mr Food for the name of the book? I will be first in line to get that one. If there was to be book launch in Kyoto, I would be there with bells on (is that an Aussie expression?), because after all、 Kyoto is only 50 minutes away, and 私はめっちゃひまです!!!!(well, sometimes!)

obachan said...

CG
I wonder which sake bar in Umeda you are talking about, but anyway it sounds like a real cool place. Talking about sake, I'm going to post about a special sake real soon, so stay tuned! ;)

BTW, I was going to ask Mr.food the same question.

randi
Wow! Thanks for coming by to let me know. Yes! I'll definitely give it a try.

Mr.food
Great information! Please tell us the name of the book. I might go to Kinokuniya bookstore in Umeda and stand in line right behind CG (oh no, he is going to Kyoto, right?) or more realistically, order one via Amazon. In addition to the dashi secret, I really want to see the kaiseki photos in the book.

ghanima
I usually depend on that dashi-no-moto powder and they are not bad. But yeah, I understand how you feel...

christa
Welcome and thanks for leaving a comment! I'm going to post another garden report soon. Happy gardening! :)

Mr Food said...

Hi Obachan,
I've tried to write this about 10 times but strangely something goes wrong every time. Let's hope it works this time. The name of the book is:
Kaiseki the exquisite cuisine of Kyoto's Kikunoi Restaurant. by Yoshihiro Murarata. It will be out in Japan on July 26 and overseas in Nov. For Crazy Gaijin, No launch in Kyoto. The book is really gorgeous so I think you will like the photos.
Cheers
Mr Food

obachan said...

Hi Mr Food!!
Thank you so much for your reply. Did you get "Down for maintenance" message when you tried to comment? That's what I got all the time...
Anyway, OK, so it's July. I can't wait! :D
Oh, I forgot to mention this before, but thanks for your comment about the cell phone, too. I guess that's the way it should be... I mean, the staff being busy except the breaktime... (At our kaiseki place, we don't have an official breaktime. The kitchen staff basically stay in the kitchen all the time but can rest when there is no customers.)

evangeline said...

I worked in a normal Australian cafe once, so I don't know if this counts...

There was no explicit rule saying we couldn't use cellphones, but the manager may think I was being lazy if I wasn't working 100% of the time.

obachan said...

Hi evangeline,
Thanks. So I suppose you didn't use your cell phone at work. I guess that's the way it is at many places over here, too.

Mr Food said...

Hi Obachan

I don't know what was going on--I would send the message and it would time out or just disappear.

Also big editor guy spelled the chef's name wrong; it is Murata, not Murarata.
Cheers
Mr Food

Crazy Gaijin said...

YAY - Obachan. I will now have to attempt a kaiseki dinner! Scary stuff! Anyway, I am sitting here making some dashi now (from scrathc, of course :-)), and thought it would be good to see if Mr. Food had replied. Hooray - he has, and I can't wait.

obachan said...

Mr Food
Oh, don't worry about it.
He is the guy on this site, right?

CG
Hi. Maybe I should have told you about Mr food's reply when I visited your site. Sorry I just forgot -- but I knew you were coming to check this comment section very soon.
So you're going for a kaiseki dinner? Go for it! And tell us all about it! :D
I'm tempted to give summer kaiseki a try myself, too, after I buy the book..
Oh, Wait! No!!! Ahhhhhhhh!!! (<-- I'm watching the World Cup Soccer.)

Crazy Gaijin said...

yeah Obachan - sorry about the world cup. I was in a bar, surrounded by Japanese, but the three Aussies, didn't give up, and all of a sudden it was silent.....

for now. ( I am looking forward to school tomorrown!)

obachan said...

Hope you had a good day at school today, CG. ;)