Japanese dining experts: Is all Kaiseki also considered Omakase?
- Porthos Dec 10, 2010 08:38 AM
There is a lively discussion on the LA boards trying to figure out if all kaiseki meals are considered omkase since you a are "entrusting" the chef.
Perhaps Silverjay or some kaiseki trained chefs could chime in on the matter.
I find it extermely hilarious that wikipedia english has a very short entry for "omakase", referenced by two guys who wrote books relating to sushi and sushi economy.
But when you go to JPN wikipedia and search for お任せ (which is omakase in Japanese) there is no direct match :-D
Which goes to show how anal some foodies can be when it comes to defining words for themselves as they see fit.
Kaiseki involves a sense of protocol and alignment with the seasons...it has a formal aspect to it that is different from omkase, which implies improvisation.
In Japanese, "omakase" is not a culinary exclusive term and just means to politely or respectfully "entrust" someone to perform or do something for you. It's usually used as a verb. In a dining situation, depending on the context- and context is king in the Japanese language- "omakase" might have implications based on familiarity, relationship, reputation, convenience, or other factors. It might mean a more customized experience because the chef knows your tastes or it might simply mean entrusting chef for other reasons. Regardless, the patron is not selecting the dishes to eat- the chef is. In recent years in restaurant culture, "omakase" has also taken on the meaning of "chef's choice" and used as a noun (i.e. a fixed term on a menu) or a noun modifying another noun (i.e. omakase dining). It's definitely not exclusive to sushi restaurants. Bottom line, with "omakase dining", dishes are either pre-selected by the chef or served in an ad hoc manner with the chef's discretion of order and content. Ultimately, it is describing a type of service and is irrespective of the style of cuisine….and it has nothing, inherently, to do with improvisation or creativity.
"Kaiseki" is considered both a type of service (i.e. fixed progression in a formal/semi-formal setting) and a type of cuisine (usually seasonal dishes using various cooking methods). There are a couple of slightly divergent histories of "kaiseki" related to both the food as an accompaniment to tea and for banquet style dining outside of tea culture. Even then colloquial connotations though are rather formal, with the assumption that dishes are delicate, intricate, or otherwise perhaps "haute" in nature. In recent years, "kaiseki dining" seems to be a category that has emerged whereby restaurants have tried to appropriate some of the haute cuisine and implied specialness of kaiseki cuisine, labeling their food “kaiseki” or “kaiseki style”, but serving outside of sort of traditional kaiseki setting and protocol.
I've never been, but it seems from reading online that Urasawa serves a fixed menu and wants to position itself as "kaiseki" cuisine- probably because it sounds more elegant and sophisticated than "omakase" or "course" dining- which both sound rather utilitarian in Japanese. Also, applying the term "kaiseki" allows them to price it higher. Anyway, the short answer is that kaiseki could be described as “omakase dining” simply because the chef or restaurant is determining the food being served, rather than the patron selecting their own. I think both terms are being used loosely these days for their marketing panache.