I was so surprised when I found that I had won the competition set by the BHA and ANA for a trip of a lifetime to Japan for the '7 Samurai Chefs Tour 2016.' We would be shown around by guides that were skilled in their field and their knowledge of Japan and the areas that we would be visiting. An all expenses paid trip to this amazing country to live their culture, food, lifestyle and get involved and let this influence our cooking going forward upon returning. I was one of 7 lucky chefs who got chosen from sending an Asian influenced dish off to be judged by some amazing chef judges and influential food writers. All the chosen chefs came from different backgrounds and worked in different places.
After a welcome lunch at a fine dining restaurant we took a direct flight from London Heathrow to Tokyo. Just the mere 12-hour journey to get us to Japan and a 9 hour time difference to contend with. We arrived in Tokyo and were greeted by our first tour guide and interpreter. 7 Samurai Chef Tour signs held aloft as we came through the arrivals gate we were taken in some local taxis to our first hotel for our stay in Tokyo for a couple of days.
Our first taste of Japanese hospitality came when we arrived at our hotel and were treated to a chefs table with some amazing tempura cooking right in front of our eyes. Several types of local fish, vegetables, meat were cooked in front of us in the hot oil made with the tempura batter that gives that distinct crisp and crunch when bitten into. The chef told us the best ways to get the best batter for tempura and cooking techniques.
The tuna auction at the world famous fish market in Tokyo certainly was a highlight. The locals bidding for prize catch tuna that has been caught and fetches a fair hefty price! Just the week before we arrived the world record was smashed for the most ever paid for a single tuna fish of over $1.5 million.
General sightseeing around Tokyo took place to the grand palace, shrines, kitchen shops, local tofu restaurants and much more!
On from Tokyo we headed to Toba on the world famous bullet train! There was snow on the tracks when we boarded so it didn't go as fast as it usually does but it certainly puts our trains in the UK to shame! Passing mount Fuji on the way and taking in some breath taking sights as we headed out into the Japanese countryside. We were greeted in Toba and taken to a local restaurant that specialises in conger eel! A very nice taste and completely unexpected. We then toured round the Ise grand shrine, before heading of to find out how to make Bonito from a master.
He explained how the process from getting the fish, to drying out and smoking, to shaving took place. He also explained the ways that bonito was used to make the dashi stock with kombu. What a great experience to see this being made first hand.
Our first meal in Toba was hosted by the mayor of Toba and vice president of the Ise region. An amazing 15 course meal presented beautifully by chef matuska of the Toba View hotel was beautiful. The sake kept flowing and everyone was certainly in high spirits. We ended out night with a dip in the hot springs. We put our traditional kimonos and went into the springs completely naked as cloths were not allowed in the baths. It was certainly a fantastic way to finish off the night in an open air hot spring overlooking Toba bay.
We also visited the site of the ama divers, where the women of the town would traditionally dive for pearls in the open water without the aid of breathing apparatus or snorkels. In just a white sheet protecting them from the freezing water they dived up to 10 meterss unaided. We then learned how to make nori seaweed from scratch. From the slicing of the seaweed to the pressing and drying out it certainly was a great process. The ama divers then cooked for us local fish, and other delights over the open coals right in front of us in the huts they usually use to warm up after their dives.
This was followed by an afternoon in the kitchen for a masterclass with chef and his team. We learned how to kill a live fish for sashimi! Learnt about knife skills and Japanese knives, and even made our own sashimi to eat for ourselves that night at dinner.
From Toba we headed to Osaka. Here we learnt about the production of soy from start to finish. We even made our own soy sauce which we bottled and bought home with us. We toured the Irie shrine which was made famous in the film about geishas. Had some spare time in Osaka to see the castle and take in the culture and sample some of the amazing street food.
Our last night was an open chefs table BBQ in front of us. Such delights as local fish, vegetables, steak, fish heads everything you could imagine was cooked in front of us over the open coals again.
Certainly a fantastic trip of a lifetime, and sad that we had to come home so quickly. A place that will always be remembered in my heart and the new skills I've learned put to good use in the future career. A massive thank you to BHA and Miki travel and ANA and everyone involved behind the scenes in making this trip happen.
To get a more in depth insight of to what we did whilst on our tour please visit- http://craigfloate.wordpress.com