Posted on January 13, 2017

I am fortunate enough to have just returned from an unbelievable trip. As a chef I have dreamed about going to Japan for so many years. I have always been fascinated with Japanese cuisine and culture. The trip was designed with food and culture as the primary focus. I had the honor of traveling with Yasu Kizaki from Sushi Den, and I couldn’t of asked for a better line up of events for my first trip.

Trying to distill two overwhelming weeks into a few paragraphs will be interesting. There was so much culturally, and culinarily that just blew me away. After working with seafood for almost 20 years, I thought I had experienced the best of the best and honestly worked with the best ingredients. Yes, it may have been a combination of the sake and just the excitement of finally actually being in Japan, but I can honestly say the seafood, and in fact all the food I ate was outstanding. The Japanese truly have quite a lineage of reverence, appreciation and honor for taking care of people.

While we were in Kyoto, there were two separate incidents that I will never forget.

We were visiting the Yamamotohonke sake brewery. We spent some time with the brewer, a 13th generation sake producer. They served us a fantastic lunch paired with their line of sake, and my first experience eating raw chicken! BTW It was delicious. We got a glimpse of their production behind the scenes. After a great afternoon, we took pictures and said our good byes. As our group walked down the block towards our next destination. A little buzzed, distracted and kind of taking our time. Unaware of our host. As we looked back, almost two blocks away at this point, the brewer and his assistant were still standing outside of their brewery waving and making sure they saw us off. Unbelievable, and this is not uncommon in Japan. Hosts will see you off and wait until you are well on your way before they turn back.

Similarly, two nights later and our last night in Japan we wanted to treat ourselves to a special dinner. We made reservations at Chihiro a two star Michelin restaurant. We had a fantastic experience. I could go on and on about how thoughtful and delicious each course was. Every aspect of the service was thought about. Plateware was beautiful and unique, but it wasn’t used because it was the coolest new style of ceramics. Each physical dish had a purpose even if, it’s purpose was in it’s simplicity. The purpose was the focus of the food. The service was perfect, in that you didn’t even notice the service but wanted for nothing. I am left handed and after our chef noticed that I grabbed my chopsticks with my left hand, he would place the dishes in a manner that was easier for me to eat. After several hours of indulging we paid, said our goodbyes and left. I hadn’t realized that the chef wasn’t present when we said goodbye. We were a good 200 yards down the alley when we could hear someone running down the alley towards us. It was the chef. He ran us down to shake our hands and thank us for joining them. I will never forget that.

There is a real authenticity in Japanese culture, especially when you are the guest.

– Executive Chef Sheila Lucero