The following are excerpts from finalist Kelvin Tan's analysis of his trip and dish selection and preparation:
The overall highlight of the trip, for me, was visiting Tenpaku dried bonito factory. The history of bonito and how it is produced was delivered by the owner Tenpaku-san. A true craftsman with pride & passion towards his work. His factory is located high on a cliff which faces towards the Pacific Ocean. Inside, a wonderful smoky aroma filled the cold room. He and his family showed us wonderful hospitality, pouring us warm dashi infused with tomatoes to drink.
Following this he demonstrated how to use a Katsuobushi kezuriki to freshly shave bonito. The shavings were used to top a clay pot of warm rice, finishing with a splash of soy. This is the memory that stands out the most every time I think back to Japan.
Selecting the Fish
I feel very fortunate to have visited the famous Tsukiji market in its original location, before its relocation. Watching the live tuna auction, so close, as it was happening was an intense, unforgettable experience. Sadly no new sale records were set, but the biggest catch on the day sold for ¥3,000,000. This highlights the Japanese food culture appreciation of tuna.
Master Chef Sadakatsu Matsuura of Toba View Hotel (awarded the Yellow ribbon of Honour) taught us many skills in his Japanese cooking masterclass. We visited Takeoke premium soy factory and learned about the making process of soy.
The cooking of the mackerel is inspired by the day trip to Tōshijima island. Here we learned how to make nori by hand, the traditional way, from the local Ama. Afterwards we had lunch in their hut, various types of local fish and freshly handdived seafood, all cooked over an open barbeque. For me the best lunch on the
Selecting the style of the Don
Before visiting Japan, I always associated donburi with katsu curry. I tried some amazing, different style donburi. A seared kaisendon at Tsukiji market and an anago tendon in Toba. Our first night in Tokyo we dined at Tenshiba, a tempura restaurant, located in the Prince Park Tower Hotel. Course after course, we enjoyed a variety of local Japanese fish and vegetables. The batter was wonderfully delicate, so light and crispy. The final course of the meal was a tempura cake of shrimp and scallions which rested on a bowl of rice covered in broth. It was very delicious and comforting, a perfect end to our first meal in Japan. I really enjoyed the dish and would like also to serve my rice, adding a warm broth/tea stock to the presented dish. I decided not to use tempura, as it would not remain crispy when reheated.
I noticed that a very important aspect of Japanese culture, is presentation. Packaging of foods most of the time came wrapped in beautiful gift boxes. Our kaiseki dinner consisted of many beautiful designs, colours, shapes, textures and symbolism. The presentation of the dish is inspired by all the meals I ate whilst in Japan. There was never a dull looking plate of food no matter the time of day.
Each component of the dish plays an important role. Just like a Japanese master chef, careful precision has gone into the food preparation. Things like the filleting of the fish and finely cut julienne of vegetables. I feel sometimes less is more when creating a refined plate of food. If the ingredients are of premium quality let them sing for themselves and not be over crowded by other unnecessary things. A beautiful plate of food to me is not only in its assembly and presentation, it is also how well balanced the delicate flavours are.