- Monday 10th September
- Tuesday 11th September
- Wednesday 12th September
- Thursday 13th September
- Friday 14th September
- Saturday 15th September
- Sunday 16th September
- Monday 17th September
- Tuesday 18th September
- Wednesday 19th September
- Thursday 20th September
- 'Our man in Japan'
- Michel Roux
Monday 10th September
by Kenneth Culhane
Virgin flight VS900
The start of a trip of a lifetime with Michel Roux, great mates & Michelin dining on the menu. After a warm welcome from the Virgin Atlantic check-in team, we were escorted to The Clubhouse Lounge where reunions and jovial greetings with each member of the group ensue whilst enjoying the hospitality and refreshments on offer.
The excitement was tangible and the mood buoyant ahead of our great adventure. Michel Roux arrived and bellows of laughter erupted around the lounge as the scholars recalled past trips and experiences. Just time for a group photograph to mark the occasion before boarding our flight to Tokyo. At last we were on our way to discover a unique culture steeped in unspoilt tradition and honour, one that few of us had experienced. Experience is the best teacher and I felt privileged to be part of this trip amongst some of the best chefs in hospitality in the UK.
The Peninsula Hotel
We arrived at the Peninsula hotel to receive a warm and professional welcome from GM Malcolm Thompson, ExecutiveChef Adam Mathis and his hotel brigade.
Wednesday 12th September
by James Carberry
After an early breakfast at the luxurious Peninsula Hotel, all minds were on the charity dinner and to ensure it went smoothly. Executive Chef Adam Mathis assembled his team and in the kitchen each dish was presented to Michel Roux for his perusal. We tasted and discussed each dish in great detail, checking the notes and the photos sent from London weeks before. The good news is that Mathis, backed up by a brigade of 100 plus had interpreted and executed each dish almost exactly as anticipated by its creator. Only small adjustments needed to be made, “this needs to be smaller” or “more acidity needed in this sauce” etc. The whole process took about an hour and Michel and the boys were reassured and relieved that everything successfully took shape.
After a visit to the Imperial Palace, we took the Tokyo underground to Ryogoku stadium. Alighting from the train we were surprised to see Sumo wrestlers walking amongst us heading to the bouts. Fans stopped to photograph and chat to the famous fighters. Entering the stadium we were given our lunch in paper bags which contained a bento box, beer and green tea to enjoy whilst watching the spectacle unfold.
When the posturing ended, the Sumo wrestlers assumed the fighting position and all hell broke loose as the opponents battled it out. It was all over in a matter of seconds and the victor and the vanquished bowed to each other in mutual respect. To witness this almost religious sport first hand was awe inspiring. The atmosphere was electric and although we were new to sumo wrestling, we loved it.
Next we visited Chanko Kirishima a traditional Chanko-Nabe restaurant for a traditional sumo wrestlers’ meal. We removed our shoes, entered via the sliding paper doors to see two long tables laden with seafood. We sat on Tatami mats with gentle Enka music playing in the background. The meal began with a traditional Japanese toast of Kampai, starting with beautiful cooked spider crab claws to be shared and a plate of sashimi, complete with condiments.
The serving staff brought a small portable camping stove to the table with a large metal pot filled with octopus dumplings, pork strips, mushrooms, noodles, pok choi, cabbage, tofu and lots more. As it came to the boil, the group were left wondering what else lay beneath? We all felt like Sumo champions now! What a great experience and a delicious meal.
Thursday 13th September
by Andrew Fairlie
Gala Dinner at Hotel Peninsula Tokyo
Today started early in the kitchens at The Peninsula where we would be serving a banquet that evening for 120 specially invited guests in order to raise as much money as possible to help the Japanese Tsunami Fund.
We had been planning this banquet with Adam Mathis, the Executive Chef, for more than three months. We chose six scholars and asked each to submit a dish. I was appointed to liaise with Adam and together the scholars proposed a six-course menu to best reflect each chef’s restaurant. Once the dishes had been decided, the chefs produced detailed recipes and pictures of their chosen dishes, which Adam’s team tested and refined in light of concerns with sourcing ingredients etc.
Adam’s team presented the dishes to the scholars with all the minor adjustments that had been noted at the tasting the previous day. When all of the dishes had been approved, the scholars then split into teams of two to help prepare for what was promising to be a spectacular event.
The team at The Peninsula were so well organised that the preparations did not take long and we agreed to meet in the kitchen later.
Late afternoon and we wore our specially designed chefs jackets courtesy of Bragard, ready to start work. André Garrett and Jonathan Harrison took charge of the first course of Marinated Scallops. Matthew Tomkinson and Steve Drake prepared the Cucumber soup with Smoked Salmon, Simon Hulstone and Richard Stuart prepared the Sweet Pea Panna Cotta with Crab, Sat Bains and James Carberry cooked Braised Ox Cheek, Andrew Jones and Kenneth Culhane prepared “Jelly and Ice Cream” and lastly, Steve Love and myself finished with Raspberry Cream Tea.
When everyone was set up and ready to go, we decided that instead of pouring the soup for Matthew’s course in the kitchen, all of the chefs would take the chilled soup into the dining room and pour the soup into the garnished bowls in front of the guests. It was agreed that it would add a special touch to the proceedings if all the scholars, Brian Turner, Michel Jr, together with Adam and his Sous Chefs, walked in to pour the soup in unison.
Right on time at 7.45pm, the first course left the kitchen. It was a pleasure to watch the Japanese working, they were so well drilled and elegant, supervision was unnecessary.
Ready to serve the soup, we lined up waiting to go in and we could sense already that people were enjoying a fantastic night. Walking into that beautiful room to a round of applause from a predominantly Japanese audience was a very proud moment for us all. Many of the Japanese women were wearing kimono traditional dress and it really added to the theatre of the whole evening.
When the last course was cleared, we were invited into the dining room and individually introduced; there were a few smiles at some of the pronunciations of our names. Michel Roux gave a short speech to thank our hosts and it was then announced that we had raised over £100,000 for the charity, raising a huge cheer from everyone.
Lastly, we retired to a small room near the kitchen where we enjoyed a glass of champagne with the team at The Peninsula. They were all honoured that Michel had left his table to join us for a drink. Some of the chefs produced first editions of Michel’s books for him to sign; it made a great picture.
Friday 14th September
by Sat Bains
Tsukiji Market & Puffer Fish Restaurant
We arrived at Tsukiji market hoping to see the tuna auctions. Despite everyone having made a huge effort to be there at 5am we were disappointed to be told it was closed because the daily admissions quota had been reached.
We found a wonderful market café for a Japanese Donburi breakfast that served us great big bowls of colourful sushi served over rice accompanied by miso soup and refreshing green tea. Delicious but certainly not for the faint hearted Westerner so early in the morning!
Later we enjoyed an interesting tour around the market. We observed a demonstration of the precise, expert cutting up of the expensive tuna plus some amazing displays of fruit and vegetables.
That evening we had dinner at the 2 Star Fugu Fukuji, Fugu restaurant in Ginza, which specialises in puffer fish. The season had yet to start but they laid on a special meal for us so that we could sample this unique experience. The meal consisted of a series of courses of the puffer fish served in many different ways, starting with sashimi of the flesh, belly and skin, some of which were quite gelatinous. Tempura style, the fish was light and delicious. This was followed by a hot pot placed in the centre of our table where various cuts of the fish were cooked in front of us in a broth with vegetables into which they cracked a couple of eggs and served it with rice. Overall the cuisine was light and clean yet satisfying and very healthy. Eating puffer fish was a tasty and unique experience that we felt privileged to experience.
Saturday 15th September
By Steve Drake & Matthew Tomkinson
Soba Noodles for lunch & Masayoshi Sushi for dinner
We started the day gathered together over coffee with Michel Roux, to discuss and contemplate our experiences so far.
First stop was an early brunch at one of the famous Soba Noodle Restaurants Yabusoba in Kanda. These buckwheat noodles are notoriously difficult to make. We began with some canapes/snacks followed by the noodles, served with spring onion and soy. Trevor and Hiromi showed us how to mix the spring onions and soy and dip the noodles into this mix, slurping to our hearts content. To finish, we were shown how to make a drink in the left over soy bowl by adding some hot noodle cooking water which was served in pots on the table, a very refreshing end to a light and delicate lunch. The restaurant was full of Japanese diners with few tourists. Trevor had again arranged a unique, authentic experience.
An afternoon tour of the world famous Kikkoman Soy Sauce factory was our next stop with our guide, Takashi Nakamura. He showed us how this traditional product is produced on a mass scale using traditional methods. We finished the tour by tasting soy sauce ice cream, a first for most of us!
The evening was spent at Masayoshi Sushi restaurant in Chiba about an hour and a half drive from Tokyo. Masayoshi Kazato has attained some great achievements and seems the world authority on sushi. Not only a great chef taking pride in preparing our meal with incredible craftsmanship and ease, but also with exemplary hospitality. The dishes were stunning but the outstanding courses were a salt baked snapper served with a hammer which was both theatrical and delicious and the simple sashimi of squid, salmon and tuna, where the cooking of the rice and the balance with the fresh wasabi was just perfect!
The many courses were washed down with three types of sake including one homemade by the master himself, which paired beautifully with the sushi. The Michelin guide does not reach Chiba, but if it did we felt this restaurant would be very highly rated indeed.
Sunday 16th September
by Simon Hulstone
Japanese Ryokan hotel ‘Ebisuya’ in Kamakura
We boarded a local train for the hour-long train ride to Kamakura, home to the biggest Buddha outside of the Buddha bar in Dubai, but I think this one was real! To be honest, it was amazing and the setting was very dramatic. From the big Buddha, we jumped on another train to the town of Enoshima where we stayed the night in a traditional Japanese Ryokan. These are very basic spa hotels where the Japanese go to switch off and relax. It is the best place to experience the traditional elements of Japanese culture and customs such as: changing into a typical Yukata (robe) after taking an Onsen, hot-spring bath, sleeping on a futon(bedding) which is laid directly on the Tatami (straw mat) floor.
We walked across the causeway to the Island. After checking into the Ryokan, we immediately dressed up in our traditional clothing and then skinny dipped in the volcanic spa. The waters of the spring baths have healthy properties and coupled with the great views across the bay, the experience is supposed to help you destress and relax, just what we needed after a busy few days in Tokyo! After a stroll around the busy, small seaside town we dressed for dinner and enjoyed a traditional Kaiseki meal which consisted of beautifully presented trays of sushi and rice which we ate sitting on the floor in a big square.
After dinner, it was still early so we went for a walk along the quiet streets to a nearby shrine before turning in early. Back at the hotel, our rooms had been turned down which at the Ryokan means the futons had now been laid out ready, namely a mattress on the floor with a duvet and pillow, poles apart from the luxury of The Peninsula, but very serene and I probably enjoyed the best night’s sleep in a few days.
Monday 17th September
by Steve Love
Japanese Ryokan hotel ‘Ebisuya’ in Kamakura
awoke at 6am and went for a walk around the island and saw the sun rise and the giant hawks, or tombe, flying aloft. The scenery is amazing and the island is also home to the big sea candle, a light house with a dragon temple complete with red devils at its base. From here, Mount Fuji can be seen on a clear day.
Back to the hotel for one more dip in the spa pool and then dressed in my Yukata, I joined the rest of the gang for breakfast which consisted of another beautiful array of well presented morsels including a lobster miso soup made with the shells from the night before dinner, steamed jasmine rice with a soft boiled egg and fresh nori seaweed to mix through garnished pickles of cucumber, diakon and ginger and served with green tea and fresh fruit, a good healthy start to the day. We checked out and made our way back over the causeway to the station to catch our train to our next destination.
We arrived at the restaurant ready for our Shojin ryori lunch all weary and very wet from a long walk. We sat down at a table with full size chairs which was a welcome relief to my knees as we had sat cross legged for dinner the night before and also for breakfast.
Hachinoki in Kita-Kamakura is a 1 Michelin star eatery serving traditional monks’ food, all of which is vegetarian. Shojin ryori was brought to Japan via China and Korea, together with the introduction of Buddhism and has developed its own unique style in a refined way. Vegetables, especially soya beans and nuts, are the main ingredients. Most of the food is made to resemble fish and meat and the menu is naturally influenced by the seasons and seasonally available ingredients. Shojin means a devotion to pursue a perfect state of mind banishing worldly thoughts and making efforts to continually strive for limitless perfection at each stage. To prepare Shojin ryori itself is part of the practice of Buddhism.
We did Kampai, a Japanese toast with sake floating with chrysanthemum flowers. 12 wonderful courses ensued and highlights included a lotus root puree made to look like glazed eel served with ponzu, gluten sandwich filled with yellow chrysanthemum flower.
A delightful pre dessert made with the freshest Asian pear and peach, served in a little light and fresh tasting jelly was perfect to follow the long lunch.
The food we enjoyed at the restaurant had great textures and flavours, probably some of the best vegetarian food I have eaten and cleverly created to resemble fish and meat. We left the restaurant and had to run down the street to catch the train, Yusain Bolt had nothing on us! It was a good way to work off 12 courses at lunch time.
Back at The Peninsula, we bid goodbye to Adam and the team and headed off to the station to catch the’ Shinkansen’ bullet train to Kyoto.
We arrived in Kyoto early in the evening and checked into the Westin hotel.
For dinner, we ended up at the Pig and Whistle ‘English Pub’ ( the only place open in the area. The Japanese have a strange idea of what an English pub should be – not a gastronomic delight, but a fun evening nonetheless!
Tuesday 18th September
by Andrew Jones
Yuba factory. Sake tasting, Wa Yamamura 3 star Japanese kaiseki dinner
It’s the seventh day of our gastronomic journey of Japan and in my opinion one that we had waited for with the most anticipation, for tonight we are to eat at our first of two 3 star restaurants.
As we arrived at Yuba Factory in Nara, we realised this would be a really special experience. It is not so much a factory as an artisan producer of this traditional Japanese delicacy. On entering the workshop we were confronted with the scent of the smouldering pine fires that power two lines of bain maries, the moist heat within the room felt like a Swedish sauna. Two craftsmen worked around the tanks, expertly lifting the perfect skins of Yuba from the piping hot vats of soya milk. Andrew Fairlie took a turn at lifting a skin which proved harder than it looked!
“Yuba” refers to the skins of soya milk that have been heated over a bain marie and then lifted off and used in a variety of different dishes. After seeing it made we went next door to the restaurant which has been part of the factory for three generations and were presented with a meal that I can only describe as Yuba cooked and served to absolute perfection. We had simple fresh Yuba with a little soya sauce on top, the taste of which is slightly starchy and reminiscent of the texture of cold scrambled eggs but very pleasant. This was followed by dishes with yuba semi dried, diced, made into sashimi, sushi, dumplings and tempura all of which had their own distinct flavour. This was all washed down with a most enjoyable sake and a few cups of green tea.
After lunch we had a brief stroll to the train station to Harushika Sake Brewery. A remarkable and shocking event occurred en route to the station, a car crash where the car flipped on to its roof and spun 25 meters down the road opposite us. Without a moment’s hesitation, Trevor and several other scholars ran to the aid of the trapped driver helped release her from the upside down car and assisted her until the professionals arrived. Thankfully she only suffered small cuts and bruising. (Maybe a testimony to the safety of Japanese cars).
After a short train ride and a 5 minute walk in the rain, we arrived at the Harushika Sake brewery. As sake is only brewed in the winter months there was not much to see but we had a tutored vertical tasting of the sake which explained the process of producing sake and development of flavour. Having tasted quite a lot so far on our trip, it was good to learn the difference between good and bad sake.
Tonight’s dinner was the most anticipated meal of trip so far. On arrival at Wa Yamamura in Nara a few kilometres away from Kyoto, I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. The picture I had in my head of a grand opulent 3 star Japanese restaurant in a mighty house with all the trimmings, could not have been further from the reality – a small, clean, modern and understated restaurant situated on a side street off the railway track and under a block of flats with only 30 seats, 9 of them at a bar.
We were greeted on arrival by Chef Nobuhiro Yamaura, only recently promoted to 3 astars. He seemed an extremely humble and most gracious gentleman. Once seated, the group seemed to take over the whole of the restaurant except the bar.
The waiting staff led by the chef’s wife also appeared very relaxed, all in converse trainers, yet all performed their jobs seamlessly, anticipating our every need throughout our 3 hour sojourn in the restaurant. Of particular note was a young waitress who spoke exceptional English and was most informative on the menu, dishes and techniques used in the kitchen, which had only four chefs and the master working there. I say “master” because the food, or rather banquet, of 18 dishes was truly an example of someone at the top of their game. This was undoubtedly the best meal of the whole tour.
I think that night I ate as near to perfection as I ever have in my life and it is a shame as I know that although I may experience food this good again and maybe cook food this good one day, the chemistry of this night will never be the same again! From the initial feeling of being under whelmed through to the heights of perfection in the food and the conversation it provoked around the table, it all blended into an experience that I will carry with me forever.
wrong as they all had their merits and deserved their place in this feast. Particular high points were the sashimi, the simplest sliced fish turned into a work of art served on crushed ice which had been set in the bowl just long enough so that it held the fish without melting and washing away the flavour. The freshness of this selection of squid, deep water prawn and fatty tuna was such that when I shared a picture of it on a social medial site. The first comment received stated that it looked like plastic! It was glistening and shimmering with freshness and then the taste, as I placed this fish in to my mouth well you could taste the expertise that had gone into preparing it, the way the flavours coated my palette, with the richness of the fish and tingling of fresh wasabi oozed in flavour before almost dissolving on my tongue, such was the skill and mastery that had gone into cutting it.
This night had turned out to be one of the best of the whole tour and as we walked to the catch the train back to Kyoto. I felt a kind of smugness, as I knew I had to write today’s journal and because I knew that I was one of only a handful of westerners to experience Wa Yamamura in Nara and also just because we had enjoyed such an amazing day – it just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
Wednesday 19th September
by Andre Garrett
Dinner at 3 star Kikunoi
We had been in Kyoto a few days now and life here seemed more relaxed and tranquil than in busy Tokyo.
We took the metro to Nijojo-Mae where we took a short walk to Okonomi Yak “Wari“. A traditional Japanese fast food style restaurant, we ate omelettes cooked on a teppanyakistyle plancha set into the table. The omelettes were made with flour, egg and water, mixed with onion, garlic, meat or fish, garnished with some cress. We then cut the omelettes ourselves and finished with the sauces on tables. Next we had some fried filled dumplingsgyoza dim sum style, a nice casual way to eat and of course, we enjoyed some sake.
After this we visited Fushimi Inari, the White Fox shrine in Kyoto, the biggest shrine to the white fox in Japan and Trevor’s restaurant’s namesake. The shrine was amazing, painted a vivid orange. We enjoyed a peaceful afternoon.
Most of us had been really looking forward to the meal at the 3 starred Kikunoi, run by Chef Murata, a powerhouse in Japanese cooking. I had dreamed of eating here for years and hoped it was going to be the highlight of the trip; it was going to be an exciting evening! After our experiences the previous night at the new 3 star restaurant in Nara and the awesome, fresh, vibrant food there, could Kikunoi scale even greater heights?
Chef Murata is world renowned and seen as the best in Kaiseki cuisine. He has another restaurant in Tokyo with 2 Michelin stars, various shops and has recently opened in London with the Hakkasan group. Murata is a third generation chef owner and the building has a tangible history. We took off our shoes and were taken upstairs to our dining room, where we sat facing each other on low chairs with our own small tables. As the food started to arrive in various courses in the Kaiseki style, I recalled the benchmark set by the meal the night before.
Some of the dishes were amazing. I really liked the walnut tofu to start, the sashimi was the best quality possible and the broth where you could cook your own Matsitaki mushrooms and Eel/Pike fish Hamo was wonderful, however other dishes did not quite hit the high notes with us. In summary, Kikunoi was an amazing experience, the service was exceptional and really attentive, the history of the place was inspiring and Murata and his wife were great hosts. We had a look around the building and were all amazed by the size of the place. We looked at the kitchen through the window and all the stagieres and commis were huddled around prepping and cleaning up, it had an almost Bocuse feel to it.
Roux Scholars in Japan
Thursday 20th September
by Richard Stuart & Brian Turner
Golden Temple in Kyoto
What a way to spend our last day of the trip! We took a tourist bus to see the famous Golden Temple in Kyoto and what a sight. This finely designed temple covered in gold leaf and set in a tranquil site on the edge of a lake, surrounded by sculptured trees and lichen covered rocks was indeed serenely calm with ladies sweeping the moss covered woodland floors. This was truly a spectacle to see in Autumn with such beautiful colours reflecting off the lake that had an abundance of Koi fish. It left an impression that the wild game season had arrived…
So what better to follow than a traditional green tea ceremony ‘Bikouen’, a ceremony originated 500 years ago by monks even though green tea was imported some 300 years earlier. The calmness and reverence was just what we needed to refresh us in the intense, dehydrating humidity. Green tea is widely used by monks to avert sleep. The staff performed the ceremony as if in a monastery with such passion and curiosity. There are four types of tea ceremonies with each style different to drink. After much bowing, we had a sweet red bean taster to soften the bitterness of the tea and then fully refreshed we returned to the hotel to prepare ourselves for the 1 star ‘Unagi’ dinner.
This restaurant was quietly hidden away up a street full of lanterns that led us to a great meal of 5 courses of eel with yet more sake, a warm eel omelette, peaking with a dish of grilled marinaded eel all perfectly cooked with seasoned rice. There followed a communal vote of thanks offered to Michel Roux for the splendid trip and to Trevor and Hiromi Blyth for the enormous amount of effort they had put into the organisation of this trip to explore the traditions and skills in Japanese culinary art today.
Trevor Blyth, ‘Our man in Japan’
One of the things that set’s the Roux Scholarship above all other chef’s competitions is that if you win you become a member of a unique club, part of a family. Once every two years or so, they meet up for a culinary educational trip somewhere in the world.
Having lived in Japan for almost twelve years and having become very familiar with its incredibly unique cuisine and culture I have always wanted the Roux Scholars to visit. After the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, coupled with the threat of nuclear disaster from the crippled Fukushima reactor and the rapidly rising yen, I all but gave up hope that this would ever happen. “Tokyo needs tourists but nobody wants to come”, was the feeling across the whole of the hospitality industry here.
Late one Saturday evening in March 2012, almost a year to the day of the earthquake, leading from the front as usual Michel Roux called to let me know he was bringing the Scholars to Japan. “This is the right time to do the trip, time to give our little bit of support to Japan”, were his words.
And what a trip it was! Six months later they all arrived in Tokyo for a whirlwind ten days of sushi, sashimi, fugu, tempura, keiseki ryori, shojin ryori, unagi, tepanyaki, okonomiaki, nabe, soba, tofu, gyoza, yuba, donburi, bento, macha, quite a lot of sake and a little bit of yakitori. In between that and the temples, shrines, sumo, daibutsu, shinkansen, ryokan and onsen they also made time, with the help of Chef Adam Mathis and his super professional team at the Tokyo Peninsula hotel, to cook a truly fantastic gala dinner, the proceeds of which go to help the victims of the tsunami.
Having written thank you letters to the restaurants that we visited, many of the chefs and proprietors have graciously written back to say how enjoyable it was for them to host and cook for such food loving people. With that sentiment I totally agree. I can’t think of a better bunch of guys to show around Tokyo. Hiromi and I had a fantastic time too. But in a city with 239 Michelin stars and upwards of 160,000 restaurants, we only just scratched the surface.
“I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and was so proud of my scholars, they were like ‘kids in a sweet shop’, everywhere we went. They were so respectful, yet excited to learn about everything and discover new tastes, textures and to experience the culinary treasures of Japan. That’s what makes these trips worthwhile, we all learn from the experiences and talking about them with each other at our short daily debrief sessions each morning.”
“We all took away something unique that will inspire us in our cooking for the future, and that includes Michel Jr. and myself. I’m delighted that we were able to give back to the country in the form of the wonderful banquet that the scholars prepared, together with the team at The Peninsular, which raised so much money for the Tsunami charities.”