Some 800 chefs and food experts have gathered this week for a three-day exploration of Japanese cuisine at the 13th annual Worlds of Flavor conference at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in California’s Napa Valley.
The meeting kicked off Thursday with a keynote presentation by Yoshiki Tsuji, president of the Osaka-based Tsuji Culinary Institute, who walked attendees through demonstrations by three chefs representing the cuisines of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
MORE: Read Bret Thorn's observations from the Worlds of Flavor conference on his blog.
Tsuji explained that the foundations of modern Japanese culture coalesced during the Tokugawa Shogunate between 1603 and 1868. During that time, the military ruler was based in Edo, or modern-day Tokyo while the nobility remained in the ancient capital of Kyoto and the merchants set up shop in Osaka.
Thus high-class kaiseki — the seasonally focused meal that was served at the most regal tea ceremonies — developed in Kyoto.
In Osaka, the shipment center for the entire empire, became the entrepôt where the wealthiest people could enjoy the best ingredients.
In Tokyo, the de facto capital, laborers from throughout the country came to work, often without their families, and so the Japanese equivalent of fast-food — items such as sushi, tempura, grilled eel and soba noodles — were developed.
The keynote presentation by Tsuji was followed by a “marketplace” that included performances of Japanese song and dance and samplings food and drink, including sparkling, aged and unfiltered sake, Spanish Cava paired with mackerel and kombu seaweed marinated with rice vinegar, and adzuki-bean-and-chocolate Opera desserts made by White House pastry chef Bill Yosses.
Although the theme of the conference is Japan, modern American trends were much in evidence, including an abundance of pork belly. Some of it was skewered with shishito peppers, while other preparations included braised belly served with either red miso or fermented soy powder — the latter for people seeking lower-sodium options. Pork belly also was served with shiso and apple salad.
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