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Made in Japan

Fiona FernandezThat the Japanese are sticklers for time, precision and are immensely proud of their wealth natural or man made is a well-reported fact. This journalist has never visited the Land of the Rising Sun but had a brush with these virtues, courtesy a story that we had worked on, recently. A prestigious and well-respected international culinary publication had released their list of the world’s top 50 restaurants for 2013.

No surprises that a Japanese restaurant in uptown Tokyo was the highest ranked Asian entry - at No. 20 - on a list that was dominated by European names, with a few American fine-dine addresses for company. The restaurant in question - Narisawa, had jumped seven spaces since last year’s list. Their founder chef, as one was to learn, was an environmentalist, who, inspired by nature and the land’s fresh produce had created a stunning poetry of food, style and art laced with a celebration of the country’s finest, most breathtaking ingredients for display on its menu.

Keen to connect with the restaurant, its visionary owner and get a sense of their award-wining culinary ideology we took a shot and sent out an initiatory mail to the address that was mentioned on their official website. In 48 hours’ time, we were shocked to find a reply from their communications head, not only acknowledging our mail but also expressing their green signal for an interview. What ensued for a few days was the exchange of politely refreshing examples of how communication is possible - never mind the language barrier, contrasting cultures and time lines.

No aggressive PR machinery in sight, not even veiled requests for plugs felt like a breath of fresh air. Instead, personalised, insightful replies from the founder chef arrived in our mailbox a day before our mentioned deadline, with a link to photographs of its signature food and restaurant interiors. Of course, not before the communications head had profusely apologised to us for being unable to organise for a tele-chat due to the chef’s packed schedule. Instead, he offered a solution in the form of an email interview and promised no delay from their end. He was right. In clock-work precision, we witnessed as things worked out to make for an amazingly memorable experience.

The replies reflected the earthiness, yet worldly-wise, refined sensibilities of an individual, which translated to the food at his restaurant - a signature style that wanted to wow the world with its Japanese fare drizzled with a French twist. It saluted the country’s finest produce from its fields and its waters. Even the logic of setting up his award-winning restaurant near the seafront was to ensure that fresh catch would always be served to its clientele.

As one pored over these revelations, it became increasingly clear how such big-ticket restaurants almost always, stick to the basics. The focus on regional flavours, work ethic and a committed staff that believed in integrity and sincerity at its core seemed to have created a winning combination. An impressionable encounter, this was. And perhaps, more importantly, valuable lessons to be carried away from this people - about time management, drive, and a respect for one’s identity at all levels. Just for the record, no Indian mentions made it to that list.

The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY 

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