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The fallout from Japan as Mecca

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In the past several years, there has been a noticeable tilt toward Japanese influence in French food. No chef worth his salt fails to go on an eating journey to Japan. From the point of view of my own palette, sometimes these work,almost as often they do not. But more to the point, I find myself mourning the demise of local and regionally classic cooking.

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  1. Can you give some examples?

    I have probably found the opposite, France is very traditional and the majority of restaurants continue to serve the classics bistro/brasserie/restaurant repertoire. Compare this to Spain and there is a greater Japanese influence in some places, but still I see the food as still predominantly Spanish. Here in Sydney we have some very good examples of Japanese/French fusion chefs (Tetsuya for example) and there is far more evidence of a Japanese influence than I ever saw in France, although it still doesn't swamp the options.

    1. I know there are a few restaurants in Paris that have or had a Japanese chef but I haven't noticed any overall increase of Japanese influence either. On a side note, I cannot stand fusion cuisine and would go out of my way to avoid it except I am actually a fan of Alan Wong. It works (at least for me) because in his case, it reflects his background as a Chinese-Japanese American chef who grew up in Hawaii and regional cuisine in Hawaii evolved by fusing many ethic elements because of history as opposed to trends.

      1. In fusion food in general, there is most of the time what I call a "colonial" approach -- taking commodities without regard for the whole culture. But food is part of culture -- it has a spirit, an environment, cultural and historical roots. Borrowing gimmicks or ingredients and then claiming to be "fusion" is just a marketing recipe.

        At the same time, it actually is the essence of French cuisine to integrate exotic ways and ingredients -- integrating spices and vegetables from the new world, food ways from the Italian renaissance, etc. In that sense, Roellinger was quintessentially French exactly in that he was travelling three months a year and was totally inspired by cookings from all over the world, but applied in a sensible way to his main ingredients -- fish and vegs from Bretagne.

        Of course the same thing happens with Roellinger as happened with Adria, Loiseau, Robuchon, Guérard or even Wagner: lots of mediocre cooks started imitating their ways, without being convincing at all.

        So what I miss is not necessarily local and regional cooking. It's the authenticity, the quest for chefs to serve what they really like and understand instead of trying to make a point. I have no idea if it is worse now than it was before. I suspect that, in any discipline, the proportion of really good, authentic guys is never very high, and the majority are imitators.

        1. Many restaurants in France, esp those inventive néo-bistros, have shown a very positive Japanese-Chinese-Thai influence. However this influence is not overwhelming, and at least not even enough to qualify the cuisine as fusion. Me thinks French cuisine in France remains very French.

          "I find myself mourning the demise of local and regionally classic cooking. "

          I find the contrary, with all the emphasis on terroir in recent years...
          Classic cooking, that's another issue. The trend is toward inventivity everywhere, which means anything but classic. Even in Spain I started to crave classic dishes because I got so moleculared-out sometimes. Foam foam foam, give me a break.
          Last summer in a small town in the Loire, LAVARDIN, I had a classic beurre blanc sauce with my fish in the pretty riverside bistro Le Relais d'Antan, and realized how long I had not had a velvet-smooth beurre blanc sauce like that in a retaurant, and how much I missed it and didn't know I missed it.

          1. Well, there certainly are both a lot of Japanese places opening each month and a lot of chefs influenced by Asian cuisine, but today for instance, my friend and I noted that the much heralded (with good reason) and reasonable Bouchon et l'Assiette in the 17th was reflecting the Southwest not the East (eg it was Basque-influenced not Asian-affected), despite the chefs' (yes there are two) journeys through the great houses of Frechon, Drouant, Michel Serran, & Dutournier.

            John Talbott
            http://johntalbottsparis.typepad.com/...

            1. I think that some foreign influence is inevitable given globalization but I agree that the influence has been small. Food, like any other aspect of a culture, evolves and pushes forward and some of it is can be attributed to foreign influences. In the past 50 years or so, the Japanese has developed a real passion for French food. Their influence in French cooking goes back as far as the 70's when it had a strong influence in the development of nouvelle cuisine. Top chefs such as Bocuse, Troisgros, Verge began visiting Japan and were really taken with some of the aesthetics: a strong believe in seasonally, simplicity, plating, etc. The use of their ingredients didn't seem to creep in until the past few years. Still, I think there is still much local and regionally classic cooking in France.

              25 Replies
              1. re: PBSF

                I agree that the big influence from Japan in France has been on presentation and plating. It has generally been a very good influence.

                1. re: PBSF

                  Perhaps paradoxically, the Japanese have been open to French chefs in Japan, ie Ducasse, the Pourcels, Robuchon, and rumor has it that Suntory is talking with Daniel Rose (labelled by FRANCE mag as a "British" chef).

                  1. re: John Talbott

                    As Shakespeare “the time is out of joint”, culinary habits vary in time. In my view, someone who cooks with only butter and cream is not a terrific cook. Japan cooking is humble, simple and beautiful in presentation. In the philosophy of Syrius, you have to leave your own planet and go on a new ‘star’ to be able to detach yourself from your Gods. I do think that even for French food, modern or traditional, there will be some repeat history toward simplicity, as seen at the 3 stars like L`Ambroisie or L`Arpege. Japan is influenceb by European cuisine. Even they use too much of the ‘curry’ spice (get bored of that one), the chef won`t use much Chinese/Korean influence….
                    Even if one of my ‘gourmandise’ is Tokyo sushi, I feel Japan is traditional, too traditional. It will have to stay one the same bench as French culinary to really learn form it.

                    1. re: John Talbott

                      "paradoxically, the Japanese have been open to French chefs in Japan, ie Ducasse, the Pourcels, Robuchon"

                      True, but I have not seen evidence of Japanese chefs incorporating French ways, the way French chefs have embraced many Asian influences in their cuisine.
                      One exception is a sushi restaurant in the 16th - now defunct, I believe - who I think was the first to make foie gras sushi, back in the 90s. Since the owner was an importer of sake, the menu also did a very interesting sake pairing with the dishes.
                      Must admit I had the worst hangover in my life...

                      1. re: Parigi

                        I am lucky enough to have experienced "Japanese chefs incorporating French ways, the way French chefs have embraced many Asian influences in their cuisine." Masahiko Yomoda and Haru Inukai were both trained at Robuchon in Tokyo and have cheffed at various restaurants in Sydney, and Sake was part of the degustation wine flight...!

                        I have never eaten at Hiramatsu in Paris, but understand it is Japanese cheffed, but I also understand it is classic French fare. Anyone been and can comment. Are there Japanese touches?

                        1. re: PhilD

                          Hiramatsu is a must. Much too often, it is overlooked. When I am questioned about it I invariably say "French cuisine with Japanese perfection".
                          I still don't understand why the red guide does not give them the recognition they deserve. The 'new' location is not as great as when they were in Ile St Louis but still this is worth a detour.
                          There's this thing about Japanese chefs mastering french cuisine which make them somehow unique; I think about Hiramatsu, Yoshimasa Watanabe from les cartes postales, (maybe makoto Aoki), and chef from Au bon Accueil who regrettably left to somewhere in Hokkaido. It is the essential french cuisine prepared with perfection. It gets rid of the heavy Escoffier-style sauces.
                          I am usually extremely impressed with the ability of those chefs who came to France to learn things they could easily get in Kyoto.

                          BTW I've never been to Stella Maris, does any one have any comments on this one?

                          1. re: Theobroma

                            Sorry to be late here - I've been off in the land of cookoo-clocks and watches, but in answer to:
                            "BTW I've never been to Stella Maris, does any one have any comments on this one?"
                            I haven't been since the prices have been bumped up but it was pretty darn good the three or four times I did go.

                        2. re: Parigi

                          "True, but I have not seen evidence of Japanese chefs incorporating French ways, the way French chefs have embraced many Asian influences in their cuisine."

                          Do you mean in France?

                          In Japan, Japanese/French "fusion" cuisine has been around for decades now. Some people call it French Kaiseki and it comes with a cute catchphrase - French cuisine you can eat with chopsticks. Here is an example:

                          http://www.misogui.jp/eng/menu/index....

                          Japanese public tends to be fickle so French has come and gone out of style (but not really), then it was all about Italian as well as Italian-Japanese fusion, and now molecular gastronomy.

                          Even the chefs who were trained in ultra-conservative settings like Kicho are incorporating ingredients like sour cream and olive oil which are definitely not part of traditional Japanese cooking.

                          1. re: kikisakura

                            "Do you mean in France?"

                            Yes I meant in France, since we are posting in the France forum.
                            "Even the chefs who were trained in ultra-conservative settings like Kicho are incorporating ingredients like sour cream and olive oil which are definitely not part of traditional Japanese cooking."

                            Fascinating. very good to know. How is the result? Does it work?

                            1. re: Parigi

                              Now that I think about it, my guess is that most French chefs working in French restaurants in Japan stick to classical French cuisine (as in no Japanese or Asian influence) just as it is the case for Japanese chefs cooking Japanese food in France. I suppose they were brought over to the other country for their "authenticity," so to speak.

                              As for olive oil and sour cream, I am in no position to voice protest as I put the infamous Kewpie mayonnaise all over yakisoba, okonomiyaki, hiyashi chuka, dried squid, and such (not pizza though; that's just gross) but I like my Japanese food clean and unadulterated. Nevertheless, yes, it does work if the chef knows what he/she is doing.

                              1. re: kikisakura

                                Often I put in soy sauce, and sometimes wasabi (!), even rice vinegar, in my vinaigrette. Sssssh, don't tell my French friends.

                                1. re: Parigi

                                  Don't tell your Japanese aquaintances either!

                                  1. re: Parigi

                                    I put Umeboshi in my pesto. And miso.

                                    1. re: souphie

                                      Shudder!

                                      But that's OK. I shave my truffles onto hot rice, do my foie gras in teriyaki, use andoulette in my niku jyaga.

                                      OK, not really. But I do use wakame, daikon, gobo, naga-imo, sato-imo, matsutakes, and shiitakes in my French cooking.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Sam I miss you so.
                                        Next time I make foie gras fried rice, I will raise my glass to you.

                                      2. re: souphie

                                        Well, I won't tell if you won't disclose my biggest secret that I chose a partner who thinks rice noodle goes best with blue cheese sauce. That actually gave me a serious pause and I have to make sure he doesn't pass that dish onto our unborn child.

                                        Maybe I could be accused of being a purist but eating dishes with cream and olive oil during the course of kaisei meal by a former head chef of Kicho felt like being invited to a tea ceremony by the grandmaster himself and being serviced chocolate milkshake instead of tea. It's not wrong per se but something about it felt improper.

                                        Anyhow, as for what makes French French as opposed to Japanese at the hands of French chefs, if souphie makes me a pasta dish with ume and miso pesto, I would't call that French no matter how French souphie is. That'd be Italian/Japanese fusion dish in my book.

                                        But then, when I cook, just about anything goes...I am above my own rules, you see. :P

                                        1. re: kikisakura

                                          I profoundly disagree with that. What makes a national or regional way of cooking is not the use of specific, local ingredients. That's the colonial view of the world, where countries differ by their commodities. It makes no sense. When you'tre talking about major food cultures, they have nothing to do with a list of ingredients, or even recipes. They're exactly that: cultures. That means they define a relationship of man to the world -- both the social world and the natural world. It is profoundly intertwined with social cultures, with religious representations, with economic constraints. For instance Yam'Tcha has nothing Chinese about it because it follows the Astrance model of what dining is. It means there is no generosity, no sharing, no health dimension. Only borrowing of ingredients and even flavours. ZKG is at its heart a modern Parisian bistrot, serving a piece a meat with a side of vegetables. It's labeled fusion because the ingredients involve lemongrass, ginger, what have you, but there is no way that it is anything but super French and, at its core, banal. On the contrary, Robuchon's style today, focused as it is on the extreme precision of the gesture, of carving, of exact cooking and seasoning, of revealing the ingredient, on a whole attitude towards food, is much more Japanese inspired than supposed "Japanese fusion" places.

                                          What's more, if a national food was defined by its ingredients and recipes, there would not be such a thing as French food. It would be fusion Italian/German/Spanish/American/Indonesian or something of the sort. The most baisc recipes and ingredients of the French "repertoire" are imported.

                                          1. re: souphie

                                            Souphie, isn't a food culture defined by its relationship to its geography and thus the base of the culture is bounded/influenced by the available ingredients. The "cheese culture" (no pun intended) in France wouldn't be as strong without lots of milk from cows, sheep and goats fed on well watered grass. The rich curries of south east Asia wouldn't be the same without the ready access to coconut milk, and clearly there are lots and lots of other examples of how the palette of ingredients help bound and define the individual food culture.

                                            At a national level it gets a little trickier, especially in geographies with more recently fluid boundaries, an example was a discussion I had about Laotian and Thai cuisine which has influences from Cambodia and Vietnam. Europe has fairly fixed boundaries and we see the national cuisines become more defined. Certainly you will see the same ingredients used across the borders, and you will see dishes with common roots take, boudin noir, black pudding and morcilla as one example. But dishes also pick up other ingredients and influences from their country, influences from colonial pasts, or invasion (the Moors in Spain), or the spice route in the UK. The post colonial influence gives us things like the curry culture in the UK, and of course the great bakery culture in Vietnam, here indigenous ingredients are used differently or supplemented by new ones.

                                            I disagree that most of the French basics are imported (from where?), conversely I find it strange that France, which was a great colonial power, may be the most resistant to these influences as a result of Careme and later Escoffier. Both of these codified the cuisine and thus made it rigid and less open to external influence and fashion.

                                            The ingredient barriers are breaking down, but they are still there. I have just spent a day shopping for some Sichuan ingredients which were hard to find and do give dishes the authentic flavours (chilli bean paste made with broad beans for example), similarly a shopping trip buy ingredients for a Japanese meal involved finding good mirin, sushi soy sauce, and various sea-weeds. Some of these ingredients are crossing boundaries, but many still help to define and position a food. Adding Mirin, red rice vinegar, soy sauce, grated ginger and garlic and a little chilli to a bowl of cold tagliatelli is going to turn an Italian staple into a Japanese dish simply because of the ingredients used.

                                            However, I do agree food culture is not only about ingredients. The Robuchon precision comment is interesting, but one can argue French patisserie skills are also all about precision. I also agree about the social aspects, a Spanish Tapa can only be a Spanish Tapa in the right social context, move the Tapa into a formal sit down restaurant and it simply becomes a small plate of food.

                                            1. re: PhilD

                                              Nice discourse. What is sushi soy sauce?

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Isn't shiro the traditional soy sauce for sushi? Or is that just sashimi? Or did I just make that up because it's the one I serve with sashimi?

                                                1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                  Yes you did. ;) Shiro soy sauce is generally used for nimono (braided/simmered dishes) but if it works for you on sashimi, why not?

                                                  For sashimi, most people would opt for regular soy sauce though tamari is also a popular choice and a good version of it is available in Paris:

                                                  http://www.workshop-isse.fr/acheter-e...

                                                  Some soy sauce brewers started marking sashimi soy sauce in the recent years and recipes vary.

                                                  Now, as for sushi soy sauce, it is commercially available even in France:

                                                  http://www.syoyu.com/site/shachou_blo...

                                                  but you can make it at home pretty easily. Other "specialized" soy sauce available these days include soy sauce egg dishes, tofu, and grilled mochi. Actually, the one for eggs is pretty tasty and handy to have around in the kitchen.

                                                  1. re: kikisakura

                                                    When you say regular soy sauce, does that mean koikuchi?
                                                    Do the specialized soy sauces not fall under the traditional categories of shoyu? I'm only familiar with koikuchi, shiro, tamari, usukuchi, and saishikomi. I wouldn't use saishikomi on sashimi as it is too strong, and I find usukuchi too sweet for sashimi. I usually buy a long aged tamari that would overwhelm the flavor of sashimi, but I use a lighter variety for sushi.

                                                    1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                      Yes, koikuchi is what I meant by regular soy sauce. The specialized soy sauces are definitely not traditional; it's a marketing strategy to sell more bottles and it'd be perfectly valid to call them "tare" rather than "shoyu," IMHO. Still, it is quite convenient if you don't have the time to concoct your own version.

                                                      I am completely with you when it comes to heavy and thick say sauce being too overwhelming for sashimi and I wouldn't think that sweetness would go with most of sashimi but strangely enough, that's how a lot of sashimi soy sauce are formulated - thick, aged, and sweet and to achieve that flavor, they add nasty stuff like artificial sweetener and MSG. Anyhow, I'm not a huge sashimi or soy sauce person but in theory, it'd make more sense to me to pick and choose soy sauce that'd go with the particular type of fish you're eating.

                                                    2. re: kikisakura

                                                      I am lucky I have a Japanese supermarket close by, and their range of Soy sauces is not dissimilar to an Italian deli's large range of olive oils. Lots of choice, and scope for lots of confusion, luckily they have stickers on the back with English translations and some very helpful staff...!

                                              2. re: souphie

                                                I can go with the notion that Robuchon is inspired by Japanese aesthetics but my point was rather that if I taste ume and miso or even either of the two ingredients in a dish, in my book, that makes it at least partially Japanese. Imagine if you decorated a room in your Paris apartment with tatami mats and fusuma screen doors, to me, that room would scream out "Japanese" no matter how typically French the other architectural elements may be and that's how I feel about ume and miso. Perhaps, one of these days, miso might become as French in France as mayonnaise is Japanese in Japan but that day has yet to come.

                                                But again, I have not sampled your miso ume pesto or a dish prepared with it so it's all academic at this point. I might just as well agree with you that it has nothing to do Japanese cooking and dish is certainly not Japanese once I taste it (...but then, that wouldn't sound very complimentary, would it?).

                            2. This thread came to mind when I read in the current (Feb.) issue of "France Today" (at p. 6), Alexander Lobrano's brief comments on this subject in his review of "Le Concert de Cuisine" (15eme), "where chef Naoto Masumoto’s superb Franco-Japanese cooking
                              has become a strong draw for stylish crowds." (14 rue Nélaton, 01.40.58.10.15; lunch menus, €24 and €29; dinner €40 and €57.) Hmmm, I'm not part of the stylish crowd, but I'm still interested -- are there any recent reviews here? (I searched but found none.)
                              Jake

                              1. I cook both French and Japanese. I've eaten French and Japanese in Japan and French and Japanese in France. There has been more French influence in Japanese (restaurant) cookiing in Japan than Japanese influence in French cooking in France.

                                On the other hand, French cooks who stay French are more appreciarted in Japan than those who do fusion; and Japanese cooks in France, I suspect but don't really know, make more money staying with Japanese cooking.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  The question here is what qualifies as "French who stay French". In my opinion, using wasabi, umeboshi, miso or even raw fish does not suffice to make French food less French. A case in point is Briffard, who married a Japanese woman, lived and cooked there, uses wasabi and all sort of very Japanese ingredients, and yet is as French as it gets. In contrast, there is something profoundly Japanese in Robuchon's aethetic, yet it is hard to imagine someone more centered on socalled French ingredients.

                                2. I should mention Keisuke Matsushima who has a successful restaurant in Nice with a Michelin star. He says that his cuisine is Provençale, but it shows definite Japanese touches. To see my last blogpost on it go to:
                                  http://epicures.wordpress.com/2009/01...
                                  He has also recently opened a purely Japanese restaurant in Nice, Saisons.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: beaulieu

                                    And also the wonderful Ishima Katsumi in Lyon (En Mets Fais Ce Qu'il Te Plait)

                                  2. But aren't you all talking about Parisian restaurants as opposed to restaurants across the country. I haven't seen much evidence of this in the Languedoc, for example - the vast majority of places are still serving classic regional food. There are some places which have a slight Asian or African twist in the use of their seasonings in some of their dishes, but these are still very much in the minority, and I'm not aware of having seen any Japanese influences.

                                    1. The exchange of Japanese<-->French ideas has been happening for at least 40 years, with first Japanese cooks learning French haute cuisine, and then later inspiring French cooks to simplify according to Japanese teachings no less than 30 years ago.

                                      Nouvelle cuisine and cuisine minceur are natural friends of Japanese cooking. I would say it has been quite easy to find the symbiosis in high-end restaurants for a while now.

                                      Food is always, always changing.

                                      1. I find nothing wrong with Japanese style French if it is done correctly by folks who find the perfect balance. In fact when done correctly it is truly amazing.

                                        But I am horrified at all these Michelin starred fancy restaurants that must somehow serve multiple courses of raw fish and seafood, then garnished with French style butter sauces with spit bubbles on the plate and suddenly gourmets and bloggers and the Bourdains feel like they're in nirvana (e.g. L2O in Chicago where the "no chef worth his salt fails to go on an eating journey to Japan" applies). Some might like it but really do you have to put toro, pork belly and sea urchin and lobster on the SAME plate?

                                        1. Tonight's menu: terriyaki burger; on the side, nato with beurre Bordier aux algues.
                                          Le tout inspired by this thread.