This humble, yet valuably informative and aesthetically minimalist cookbook introduced me to the rare ingredients that in their essence express the biodiversity of France and Japan. A minimum of soy sauce and miso seasons the recipes featured in Toyo Cuisine Parisienne Saveurs Japonaises, but the preparations are still very Japanese, simple and true to their core.
I love Toyo, the tiny Michelin stared Franco-Japanese restaurant in Paris, that eventually introduced me to this book. I shared the countless dining experiences at the intimate counter just minutes away from Le Jardin du Luxembourg and introduced the talented and humble chef Nakayama Toyomitsu, alias Toyo, in my Toyo review. Aside from the focused meals, the Japanese chef still occasionally cooks for the famous designer Kenzo, who wrote the preface for the book.
Toyo’s oeuvre intrigued me even more profoundly after getting a deeper insight into his culinary philosophy via his Toyo Parisian Cuisine Japanese Flavours. If you love food and admire culinary prowess, you should read all the cookbooks of the most intellectually astute chefs. Particularly, when co-written by enlightened experts like Chihiro Masui, a Japanese gourmet writer based in France, who guides the focal ingredient discourse of the cookbook.
The quest for biodiversity: Rare food world of France and Japan exposed
Some foodstuff is rare because of the human insatiable indulgence driving it into the brink of existence, other purely due to its wild occurrence in nature when favourable conditions arise, while others are now scarce due to our suppression of biodiversity.
Wild caviar represents the first group, white truffle the next, and the last erupted because of the globally contagious model for the same, uniform produce. Driven also by the commercial desire over the past century, we have lived the illusion of empowering our survival by homogenising and controlling our food chain. Yet, the recent spike in the occurrence of natural disasters and overall decreased health in developed and now even the developing world slammed by ballooning obesity, alert us that we need more balance, more real, naturally nourishing food for our bodies to absorb what it needs and to function well.
Food culture directly influences our health and well-being. Italy fiercely fights for the preservation of their via the Slow Food movement. Japan and France are two paradoxes, where food is savoured, revered and enjoyed with respect, but obesity does not shorten the lifespan in majority of these populations. Why is this? Perhaps because of its self-sufficiency and isolation, Japan has preserved its food culture and respect for special ingredients. France has fiercely protected its agricultural regional heritage by creating the AOC and AOP protective schemes. These two world leading culinary hives are fascinated by each other as much as the rest of the food loving world reveres their drive for diversified perfection in these culinary traditions. The diners there mindfully appreciate their countries’ bounty. Unlike the robotic consumption in the pre-packaged fast food nations, now also contaminating from its nest in the West the Eastern cultures, natural biodiversity and rarity celebrating nations tend to thrive despite other challenges. Michael Pollan confirms this theory in his best-selling book the Food Rules. I elaborated on biodiversity in my Food ecology musing, so you can dive into this survival challenging topic more there.
This book indirectly touches on the culture, tradition and the blending of the French and Japanese culinary fascination and know-how. Toyo uses many edible rarities found across France and Japan in his cooking. This is a strength and curse since most of the home cooks will not be able to replicate his recipes at home. I am fascinated by the seasonally transformed rare ingredients that Toyo scouts at the Parisian markets, so I went into a great length to procure some of them. Our over the counter conversations about the almost disappeared beans – Haricots de Soissons from l’Aisne in France, the shungiku leafs used in Asia, but not much in the West, and many other ingredients at his Parisian restaurant sparked my culinary zeal.
Organised according to the traditional Japanese kaiseki courses, the book introduces this Kyoto-born concept of serving seasonal sequence of festive dishes in a precise order.
The first sakizuke course, is a small starter whetting your appetite for the seasonal feast. Here, I discovered the superb, chestnut meets potato and hazelnut flavours, of chervil roots. Deep-fried and served with farmed caviar, Toyo’s favourite ingredient, it can be made more humble, but not less decadent, by topping a dense French AOC crème fraîche in the place of the caviar. Surprisingly, I found the wildly grown chervil (in Scandinavia) at the specialist vendor on my local Monaco market. Since I bought plenty of the sustainably farmed caviar for our NYE dinner, I also prepared the more challenging Flan de Soja, caviar and coriander flowers. Made in two batches, only in the second was cooked through properly. I would welcome the chef recommending his preferred brand of non-GMO soy milk produced in France, since the one I used probably ruined the plate that we devour with pleasure at the restaurant.
Hasun sets the seasonal theme. Unless one cooks kaiseki ryori, the vegan temple food, often fish and plants play the game. The Fig salad with agar-agar noodles was slightly disappointing since I used wine vinegar instead of the suggested, but unobtainable amazake vinegar. Getting the exact supplies is crucial in Japanese and any other simple cuisine like Italian. The book should include suggested sources for buying these rare ingredients at least in France or online.
Moving to more substantial dishes with WAN, a consommé based dish, I learned that it does not need to be a soup. Toyo adores the traditional French consommé, which he uses as abase in his preparations. Nevertheless, as he writes “Once poured into a bowl and dressed with solid elements in the centre, it becomes like this first Japanese soup that surprises you once you open the lid. It must be light, perfumed, and it addresses you in all tenderness.” Make no mistake though that Toyo’s food is light on fat and carbs, he uses butter and deep-frying without hesitation. In the French fashion, flavour goes first. The buttered Gnocchis with Truffle or the Minced Beef Ravioli with Shungiku (edible spring chrysanthemum, more aromatic than in Europe and China cultivated types) finished with egg yolk and chicken introduced Italian concepts into the cookbook. The later was a failure when I made it at home. Despite having my Japanese cooking friend’s assistance, it was the mushy pasta dough resulting from the use of butter instead of the lard in the recipe. The book counts on your grasp of the basics like how to make good broth and pasta, and what substitutes are technically possible. We skipped the beef since I do not cook with meat at home. The shungiku stuffing with mascarpone was so exquisite though, that I bought the seeds of this leafy plant in the Chelsea Physic Gardens in London.
A resourceful friend brought me some of the hard to find rare ingredients like high quality large leafed kombu, katsuobushi, togarashi pepper and wagarashi mustard from Japan to Europe. She could not bring the Japanese Magnolia leafs in her suitcase though, so the savoury Mochi of daikon recipe with cep mushrooms could not be executed at my home kitchen.
Otsukori also known as mukozuke course in kaiseki tends to be a sliced fish or meat in more contemporary restaurants. Toyo’s superb Carpaccio Façon Toyo is sourced from the upscale Parisian butcher Hugo Desnoyer. If you are lucky to live in Paris, you can buy it perfectly sliced to guarantee an incredible dish even if you do not find the leafy arroche (Atriplex hortensis) plant native to central Asia that the sublime recipe uses. Beware, Toyo relishes in rare ingredients!
The glossary at the end of the book is essential since the unfamiliar ingredients, listed alphabetically, are described in more detail. Their provenance may guide your foraging efforts in the specialist stores or from more adventurous farmers wherever you live. I was able to prepare the Turbot marinated in kombu with sea grapes, after finding the later at a chef’s conference in Monaco. Kaviari sells the sea grapes next to their other luxurious sea produce. Shavings of bottarga added a smoky depth to this otsukori.
Shiizaka is a simmered warm dish. In Toyo’s Western take these are mostly meat dishes, but also some fish like the Japonized Mediterranean classic Sea Bass Grilled in the Salt Crust wrapped in kombu and buttered wine sauce. Lots of work, but the result in my hands was delicious. In this chapter Toyo also uses metulon, a horned cucumber or melon from Africa but grown in the Middle East. Also known as kiwano, I could not trace such rare ingredients in Europe. The artichokes and bitter oranges for Langoustine cooked at 300°C perfectly suited my local Mediterranean winter seasonality. The butter, orange and vermouth sauce was lips glueing! On this NYE dinner occasion, I served the Fried Oysters with lotus espuma and chips as a second sublime starter. Using locally and sustainably produced oysters from Les Perles de Monte-Carlo, who supply all of my seafood.
Oshokuji also known as gohan is the main, belly filling meal. Usually seasonally flavoured rice to fill you up in the kaiseki degustation. The Homemade pasta with sea urchin with the Onsen egg, a craft mastered only by the most precise chefs, came out fine with one exception. The size of the egg can turn it into a hard boiled egg even as I kept it a 64°C for the suggested 40 minutes. I was also wondering what is the technique to peel the extremely runny onsen egg? Despite the overcooking, the satisfying, sea intense plate was delicious. The legendary Curry and Paella Façon Toyo feature in this group of recipes, but if you cook only for two people, it is not worth the hours lasting effort. Invite friends around for this sea feast.
The mizumono seasonal dessert closes the tasting experience with slight sweet flavours. Mostly highlighting the seasonal fruit like figs, kumquats, physalis, strawberries and others. I tweaked the Physalis Enrobé de chocolat blanc et café since I used coconut nectar as a sweetener (1 to 10 proportion) with a pure organic cocoa butter. It came out nice, but as simple as the preparation appeared, it was a nitty gritty and messy hand work. The four-hours-lasting fuss with the Figs, adzuki and strawberries in kudzu jelly also turned out tasty, but not worth the work if you can just eat ripe figs alone in their peak season!
In the Salade de Fruits Glaces a la Verveine Toyo uses wild kiwi known also as kiwaï, which is still a rare ingredient even though it is now cultivated in Europe. You can skip it and use the other seasonal fruits the chef recommends. The French cross of wild strawberries, known as Mara de Bois available only in summer, making the feta cheese combo a treat for the warm months.
At the restaurant the chef always serves the sweet ginger infusion with kumquats, and to my delight he includes the recipe. Revealing that the kumquat compote contains lots of vodka I realised that it set us off for a tipsy honey-sweetened ginger treat.
I was not able to execute the Peach and junsaï soup, poached peaches with kudzu in my Mediterranean kitchen. One can buy kudzu, the root starch used to thicken liquids in Japanese cuisine, at specialist shops, but the leafy junsaï plant is one of the rare ingredients hard to come by. As with some other luxurious ingredients in Toyo’s cuisine, the author lifts up this aquatic plant (Brasenia schreberi) in an informative intermezzo, accompanied by superb close-up photos. The minimalist and clean photos of the plates by Richard Haughton perfectly capture the tone of the restaurant. Most of the plates captured in Toyo Cuisine Parisienne look exactly the same at the restaurant.
What I adore about his food is that it is straightforward, deceivingly simple, and based on the very best seasonal ingredients. Toyo does not play with names, so you will basically eat what the title suggests. The Grilled White Asparagus, Beaten Butter and Bottarga is a savoury intense plate where fish roe is matched with fermented anchovy sauce (Colatura d’anchois) that Toyo uses in abundance, hence the name is spared of it.
Frequently used ingredients of the chef Nakayama Toyomitsu: anchovies, kombu, grape seed oil, Xeres vinegar, dill, bottarga, black truffles, caviar.
Cooking with rare ingredients is by no means a cheap escapade, but a gastronomic feast that a skilled cook can manage at home.
Published by Hachette, Toyo Cuisine Parisienne, is only released in French. If your food vocabulary supersedes the grasp of linguistic political maneuvers in the passionate language of the Galls you will manage, with Google’s help all the chapters.
The last hindrance to cooking some dishes is the use of a sous-vide equipment guaranteeing success when cooking some meat dishes. Cooking on a constant temperature for prolonged time is challenging in a normal kitchen setup. He also uses Pacojet, a very expensive tool for keeping the texture of sorbets and ice-creams in perfect shape. A common sorbetier for the irresistible Crème Glacèe au Gorgonzola can be used instead.
Although at his Paris restaurant Toyo serves vegetarian menu upon request, the cookbook lacks in seafood and meat free recipes. Hopefully, his next book will broaden the plant-based offering of rare ingredients, so we can discover more of nature’s bounty.