It's one thing to appreciate the delicious art of kaiseki.
It's another thing completely to get into the kitchen and help make it. Later, as you sit before the tray adorned with plates, dishes, bowls and saucers, you cannot help but slowly savour each mouthful with a new sense of enlightenment.
So last weekend saw me aproned and ready in the kitchen of Kei Fukui, teacher of kaiseki-ryori for over 20 years. This elaborate multi-course meal originated as a small series of mouthfuls, served to monks after a traditional tea ceremony. Today it is more like a seasonal degustation, intricate in preparation, splendid in presentation.
Over the next two hours we watched, we chopped, we sliced, we garnished. We covered the basics, like making dashi, slicing sashimi and elements of Japanese plate presentation. Working as a team we each helped prepare elements of seven dishes that we would later feast on for lunch.
Sakizuke (the appetiser):
Dried fig deep-fried in white batter
Wanmono (the seasonal broth):
Crab meat ball, carrot flower and mizuna
The wanmono broth was clear and delightfully sweet, the crab meat ball was packed with generous shreds of crab flesh. The sprigs of mizuna added a wonderfully slightly bitter contrast.
Mukozuke (the cold dish/sashimi):
Hiramasa kingfish sashimi with shredded daikon,
shiso leaf, lime and wasabi
We each had to slice our own hiramsa kingfish sashimi, carefully draping these against a shiso leaf backdrop. A tumble of daikon shreds was teased into a modest tower, a smidge of wasabi placed to the side.
Yakimono (the grilled dish):
Bite-sized wagyu steak with grated daikon and yuzu pepper sauce
with watercress garnish
The soft melting mouthfuls of wagyu steak, decadently ribboned with buttery fat, was my favourite dish of all. The dressing, minced daikon with lemon juice, rice vinegar, yuzu pepper and soy, was light and refreshing with a zingy citrus tang.
Agemono (the fried dish):
Taro coated and stuffed with sweet chicken mince,
deep-fried in a coat of arare rice crackers
To prepare the agemono, cooked taro (baby taro the size of your palm) was pounded between sheets of clingfilm then shaped around a spoonful of cooked chicken mince. Rolled in arare rice crackers, the ball was deep-fried until golden then served with sweet broth of dashi, mirin and soy. It's a soft comforting dish even though I would have preferred my ball dry and crunchy.
Aemono (the vinegared dish/salad):
Vegetables in a tofu dressing
I was primarily involved with the preparation of the sesame dressing for the aemono salad, a process that involved slowly toasting the sesame seeds in a pot over the stove, then grinding it to a fine powder in the traditional grooved suribachi bowl. To this was added drained and sieved fresh tofu, then julienned slices of carrot, mushroom, konnyaku and seasonings. Cool but creamy, the smooth sesame paste had a wonderful nuttiness.
Gohan (the final rice):
Rice with five flavours
"No rice grains on the side of the bowl," lectured Keiko as it was scooped and patted into the ceramic vessel.
The rice, cooked in a dashi broth flavoured with burdock root, sake, mirin and soy, was almost sticky in texture. Mixed through with julienned vegetables and tofu it provided a hearty conclusion to the meal.
Kei's Kitchen runs hands-on kaiseki lessons on the second weekend of every month.
Classes are generally restricted to eight people.
Each class is $95 and generally runs 10am-2pm.
Menus change each month according to the seasons as follows:
August 11-12 (Early Spring Menu初春)
September 8-9 (Spring Menu春)
October 13-14 (Late Spring Menu 晩春)
November 10-11 (Early Summer Menu 初夏)
Further information here
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7/22/2007 08:21:00 pm