Kaiseki Pop-Up Dinner Showcased Art Of Japanese Cuisine
Many fans of Japanese food may be familiar with sushi, tempura and even izakaya fare, but kaiseki is new to a lot of Northwest diners.
Recently two local chefs, Jane Hashimawari and William Harper, shared this form of Japanese haute cuisine with Portlanders through a pop-up dinner held at Castagna.
Kaiseki is a multi-course meal which focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients and an aesthetic presentation. The 10-course dinner hosted by Hashimawari and Harper included grilled miso-marinated yellowtail, poached and marinated ankimo (monkfish liver), an egg custard with sea urchin, a crab ball in a flavorful, clear soup, a sweet potato dessert (chakinshibori) and many other dishes. They sourced most ingredients locally and used seasonal ingredients such as a variety of citrus and crab. They also paired the food with saké and wine.
Kari Young, a diner who was trying kaiseki for the first time, enjoyed the experience. “The progression was really nice. The highlight for me was the monkfish liver and hirame (flounder) as a duo … It was perfect … the fatty and the fresh seafood. It was also paired with really beautiful Riesling,” she said.
Hashimawari, chef and owner of Ippai (which means “full” in Japanese), learned a lot about Japanese cooking from her mother, grandmothers and aunts. “I grew up eating a lot of Japanese food. Both of my parents are from Japan,” says Hashimawari.
Harper, sous-chef at Noisette, has a background in Italian and French cooking. He has been interested in Japanese cuisine for a long time and in 2011 he completed a 3-month apprenticeship at RyuGin, a three-star Michelin Kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo.
“It was … highly influential,” says Harper of his apprenticeship at RyuGin. “I think just the level of work ethic and respect and passion and attention to details, aside from just the food, is huge and inspiring and humbling.”
Harper and Hashimawari met while they were both working at Biwa restaurant. They had been looking for a way to collaborate for years.
“When [Harper] came back [from Japan], he had all these great ideas and lots of inspiration,” explains Hashimawari. “The timing was right to do it now and start moving forward with kaiseki.”
Within the tradition of kaiseki dining, the aesthetic presentation of the dishes can be just as important as the food itself. “It’s kind of like a dance between the food and the vessels itself being part of the dish,” says Hashimawari.
Through a friend, Hashimawari and Harper connected with local potter Careen Stoll, who supplied 115 pieces of wood-fired ceramics for use at the kaiseki dinner.
“It’s important to me that the work doesn’t detract from the food — that it complements the food and it doesn’t attract too much attention away from the whole dining experience,” says Stoll. “I want my work to be just one part of that beautiful aesthetic experience.”
Hashimawari and Harper garnished Stoll’s plates with pine needles, leaves and flowers to reflect hints of nature.
“The whole experience of kaiseki is to just really feel in a moment with what’s going on in the season,” says Hashimawari. “My focus and intention for these dinners is to provoke diners to think differently about how they eat food.”
More to Explore
- Jane Hashimawari and William Harper plan to host another kaiseki dinner later this spring. (Details will be posted on the Ippai website.)
- You can learn more about Careen Stoll’s work and the process of wood-fired pottery at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland from April 1-26, 2014. Chef Gabe Rosen of Biwa will be using 170 pieces of Stoll’s ceramics to cater a special dinner hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Craft for a museum benefit on April 9, 2014.
- To learn more about kaiseki cuisine, watch this video from NHK:
Editor’s Note - March 17, 2014: A previous version of this article indicated that izakaya is a type of food rather than an establishment. The current version has been updated to state we are referring to the fare served at an izakaya establishment.