Haruyuki Yamashita Japanese Master Chef and Owner of HAL YAMASHITA
Born in Kobe, Japanese Master Chef Hal Yamashita is strongly influenced by Kobe’s mixing culinary ideologies and techniques. It is within this exciting environment that he has developed his own special fusion style. He emphasizes on maintaining Japanese culinary values, drawing out the essential flavors of each ingredient. A philosophy that has continued to define all his dining outlets within Japan and overseas.
How would you describe your cooking style and the philosophy behind it?
My cooking philosophy is based on 4 main concepts:
- Life – sanctity and appreciation of life.
- Love – for the person I love, I do everything out of love.
- Health – to opt for better food products.
- Japanese spirit – the importance of Japanese dignity overseas.
I emphasize adopting Japanese culinary aspects and using Japanese ingredients. Using quality products is a given for me, however, another important aspect of my cooking is to make the most of each ingredient’s natural flavors, rather than masking them.
Another part of my cooking theory stems from the concept of “Zen”; simplicity is key. When I was working in the kitchen of a Zen Temple in Kyoto, they stressed the importance of respecting and loving the ingredients we use. I have since learned to use every ingredient to its fullest, from the tip of the carrot to the roots, to minimize food wastage.
I therefore like to create dishes that highlight every part of the ingredients, with a good balance of flavors, colors, and nutrition. By doing so, we can truly appreciate the beauty of these ingredients.
How did you establish the concept of “Shin-Washoku”?
I grew up in the city of Kobe, where there were many foreigners around. Since young, I was exposed to a variety of cultures and cuisines, which has greatly influenced my cooking style. I have thereupon conceptualized the idea for a new genre of cooking, “Shin-Washoku” or New Japanese Cuisine.
With a modern twist, this genre combines Japanese and Western contemporary cooking techniques, while still respecting and following the basics of the traditional. As Japanese cuisine is gaining more attention worldwide, I hope to provide a fresh new perspective to the traditional, to maximize its potential worldwide.
Which recipes could you outline for us (ingredients, preparation) that represent your work that you think we should try?
There are many recipes I would love for you to try; but if I had to pick one, it would be my signature dish: Rolled Kobe-Beef Filled with Sea Urchin Topped with Smoked Caviar.
The dish is simple, it combines the mild beefy sweetness from the Kobe beef and the mild, briny flavor from the sea urchin.
At my restaurants, we only use Kobe beef; perhaps this is one of the ingredients I fixate the most on. In the market nowadays, you can get your hands on Kobe beef that is not produced in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan. However, did you know that true Kobe beef is only produced in the Hyogo Prefecture? And only those selected can be branded and sold as “Kobe beef”.
Moreover, in Japan, it was considered a taboo to mix items from the mountain (beef) and the sea (sea urchin) in a dish. Even so, I wanted to try something different, something no one else has done before; to challenge myself and break that taboo. The result: this dish, that I have continued to serve for 15 years.
This dish is everchanging; over the years, I have revised and improved not only the seasoning and flavor but also the process of making this dish more than 80 times. I have put my heart and soul into this dish and would, therefore, love for you to join us, to also have a taste of what real Kobe beef is like!
Which of your latest creations would you like to share with us?
Branching from the concept of “Shin-Washoku”, one of my latest creations is “WAZEN” Vegan; a Japanese Vegan style that is good for the environment, mind and body.
The idea behind “WAZEN” Vegan was conceptualized from combining “Wa (Japan)”, the “Zen” spirit and the concept of vegetarianism in Zen Buddhism, “shojin”, but with a modern twist, veganism. It may seem like this is a brand-new concept, however, the idea of “Zen” and its spirit has been around and influenced Japanese cooking for a long time. I have used this idea as a base to create this concept of “Shin-Washoku”.
Which culinary trends do you see going on in the world today? How do you keep up with trends?
I always try to stay up to date with the trends in the industry and worldwide.
Even within Japan, we have a vast range of local, seasonal ingredients and food trends. To use seasonal ingredients, without changing the HAL YAMASHITA style and philosophy, while following the current trends is pretty challenging. This motivates me to always be on my toes, to learn new things and grow as an individual.
I don’t know if it can be called a trend, but recently, we do see “sustainable foods” very often. To adapt to the impacts of global warming and climate change, efforts have been put to ensure food security while, at the same time, reducing environmental impact. As a chef, I see the need to contribute to these global efforts. At my restaurants, we are strong supporters of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals); we try to aim to reduce waste of natural recourse and minimize our contribution to climate change.
How did start out as a chef, which culinary school did you attend? What brought you to cooking as a profession?
I love food, food has always been my passion. Back in the day, my parents used to own a small restaurant; that could be one of the reasons for my interest in food. In elementary school, I watched a Japanese television program called “Cuisine Kingdom”, where I saw Chef Ogawa Tadahiko, a French cuisine chef, being interviewed. The dishes that he made looked very extravagant, something I have never seen before; it gave me a different perception of what the culinary world is like. Now when I look back, that image of him in his chef coat, working, probably captivated me and inspired me to venture into this field.
With that being said, I wasn’t purely interested in the culinary field; I enrolled in the Osaka University of Arts, conducting studies on novels, catchphrases, and even ceramic arts. I wanted to challenge myself and explore various fields of work. After graduating, I worked in the restaurant business department for a beverage manufacturing company. Through this, I was able to be involved in various projects of opening, planning, and managing restaurants. At first, I gained experience mainly in the restaurant business industry and not the culinary industry.
There were many good experiences along the way but of course, with any job, bad ones too. However, it was at that point in my life where I decided that I wanted to continue on this path in the food industry. The world of food has no borders and has unlimited possibilities; I decided to travel around the world to explore more about the culinary world, to broaden my horizons. Ultimately, this led me to where I am now, to develop my cooking genre, “Shin-Washoku”.
Which situation helped you in your development as a chef the most?
When someone takes a bite of your food, there is a moment where they unknowingly let out a smile or an expression of astonishment or excitement. This is one of the moments I cherish the most. As chefs, we have the opportunity to use “food” to create special moments in people’s lives, moments they will never forget. This is one of the motivations as a chef; I strive to find the most delicious foods and palettes, to bring a smile through every plate. It takes daily disciple and diligence; perhaps this has helped in my development when I was a young chef, and even till this date.
What does your work mean to you and could you give some insight to the younger generation asking themselves if becoming a chef is for them?
Being a chef is all about making people happy. There are countless opportunities to do so in our everyday lives; regardless of our nationality, race or culture. In a way, “eating” is a type of entertainment that we are all very familiar with and in that, there exists an irreplaceable time. To be able to spread joy and have a positive impact on others, isn’t it a true blessing to be a part of that very moment?
However, young chefs should keep in mind that cooking should not be used as a tool for gaining self-satisfaction. As chefs, we should be cooking for the people eating our food, to be a support for their happiness. That is something you should never forget as a chef.
What are your upcoming goals?
In the world today, there are many challenges and problems we have to face such as food shortage, starvation, lack of education, etc. As a chef, I feel that one aspect that I could contribute is through the means of food.
For more than 10 years, I have been a supporter and member of various humanitarian organizations such as the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Room to Read JAPAN. At my restaurant, I try to organize a charity party every year, proceeds go to the WFP; to help children around the world with school meals, prevent starvation and provide them with the opportunity to study.
Maintaining the Japanese food culture and supporting the preservation of regional Japanese cuisine and products is also something I want to continue to support. Through schools, lectures and seminars, I am not only able to do so but I can also help to raise and cultivate young chefs, to build the next generation of support for the future food industry.
As I mentioned earlier, cooking is not about yourself, it is about the people around you. As part of my life’s work, I try to do my best, to continue to play a part and make a contribution in various fields and aspects, to support people with food. No matter big or small, I hope to make a difference in other people’s lives. Who knows, I may end up doing more volunteer work than cooking!
Thank you so much Chef Hal Yamashita!
Find out more about:
the HAL-YAMASHITA Restaurant; the philossophy behind: http://www.hal-yamashita.com/en/philosophy
the Reservation of a table: https://yoyaku.toreta.in/halyamashitatokyo/#/
the 10 other destinations of the WATERMARK group: http://wmk.co.jp/index.php
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