“The best way we can assist these noble people is
by going to cook for them in person”
On July 3rd, Kamaishi City, an area heavily affected by the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami, was inundated with local people and media crews from all over Japan. Their reason for coming was the lunch prepared by the world-renowned chefs from New York. Celebrated chef and restaurateur, Daniel Boulud, led the dream team and brought the goodwill lunch event “New York Cooks for Tohoku” success. Right after returning from his trip to Japan, he talked about the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Would you tell us the mission of “New York Cooks for Tohoku” project?
We wanted to serve warm, tasty dishes to the people in Kamaishi City. I understand monetary contributions are extremely helpful to the recovery effort, but I asked myself, “What can we do for them as chefs?” Then I came to conclusion, “As chefs, the best way we can assist these noble people is by going to cook for them in person, offering this lunch as a gesture of comfort and good will.” Also, we wanted to send a message that Japanese ingredients are safe to the world, by actually going there and using Japanese ingredients. Plus, by traveling the Tohoku region, we hoped to show that it’s safe to travel there as well.
How did the project start, first of all?
Mr. Ernie Thrasher, CEO of Xcoal Energy & Resources, and Mr. Fujiwara, executive of Nippon Steel Corporation, dined at my restaurant in mid May. I had a chance to talk with them about the tragedy that had occurred in Japan. Mr. Thrasher told me that Kamaishi City, where Nippon Steel has its factory, was one of the heavily damaged areas and some of the Nippon Steel employees had lost their lives. Since Nippon Steel is the longtime business partner of Xcoal, Mr. Thrasher was concerned about the people in the area so much and he had been thinking about what he could do. Then he asked me to go to the city and encourage the locals by serving my food. Of course I agreed with him. Right after that I called my fellow chefs and friends to help me, one thing led to another, and everything went just crazy until the end of the project.
What kind of food did you serve there?
While creating the menu, we were informed that there were many elderly people in the evacuation center, some of whom suffered digestion problems after the long, stressful time. I planned to make rib eye steak at first, but after the report I changed my plan and made roast beef. Each chef created his own dish, but all of them took the people’s health condition and taste preferences into consideration. We also heard fresh vegetables are in short supply in the area, so we incorporated fresh vegetables as much as possible. Incorporating local specialties from the Tohoku area was part of our mission as well. The rice we used was the Hitomebore variety from Iwate Prefecture, and there were apples, garlic, cherry tomatos, string beans, chicken thighs and beef, all of it was excellent.
What was the reaction of the evacuation center?
The food was all gone, and everyone exclaimed, “oishii” (It’s tasty)! I felt so glad that I could give them happiness. It was a rewarding experience.
Is there any new Japanese ingredient you discovered while in Japan?
Well, since our itinerary was really tight, I did not have enough time to explore new ingredients there. But I admire that there are really high quality ingredients in Japan, not only ingredients but also the cuisine as a whole. I believe that there is not a single chef who does not have any influence from Japanese cuisine.
You visited Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Would you tell us about your impression?
It’s the most vibrant fish market in the world, where you can really feel the history and knowledge of all the generations of fishermen and salesmen who have been working there. Coming from Europe and having seen wonderful markets, I’ve never experienced something so teeming with life: both the fish and the people!! And, like any good traditional market, you can eat the food of that market on the side streets for a sushi breakfast of champions.
——— Interview by Taeko Takigami
DANIEL BOULUD, a native of Lyon, France, is considered one of America’s leading culinary authorities. In New York City the chef offers Bar Boulud, Café Boulud, db Bistro Moderne, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, Boulud Sud, and Épicerie Boulud in addition to DANIEL. Outside New York, he has restaurants in Miami and Palm Beach, FL and internationally in London, Singapore and Beijing, offering uniquely ingredient-driven, seasonal, French-American cooking. Chef Boulud is the recipient of three James Beard Foundation awards, including Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Restaurateur and was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government as well as “Chef of the Year 2011 by The Culinary Institute of America. He is the author of six cookbooks and the creator and host of the television series, After Hours with Daniel.
Chef Boulud checks sea urchin from Hokkaido, which has such an
excellent flavor. In this New York Cooks for Tohoku project,
chefs incorporated as many local ingredients as possible to
exhibit their safety and to emphasize their quality.
Food preparation was conducted in the kitchen
courtesy of Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel.
Serving directly to the local people and talking with them multiplies
the understanding of each other. What the people receive is not only
great food but also warm, sincere emotion from the chefs.
Chef Boulud’s creation is full of local flavors.
Considering nutritious balance,
the tender roast beef was served with a variety of vegetables.
New York Cooks for Tohoku
New York Cooks for Tohoku was a project to serve goodwill lunch in the city of Kamaishi, one of the devastated areas from the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami, and encourage people who are still recovering. The project, initiated by Mr. Ernie Thrasher of Xcoal Energy & Resource and Chef Daniel Boulud of DANIEL, and many celebrated chefs and cooking authorities, responded to Chef Boulud’s call and volunteered for the project. Participating chefs included: David Bouley (Bouley, Brushstroke), Floyd Cardoz (North End Grill opening fall 2011), Craig Koketsu (Park Avenue Spring), Tadashi Ono (Matsuri), François Payard (Francois Payard Bakery), Michael Romano (Union Square Café and Union Square Hospitality Group) and Bill Telepan (Telepan), as well as Tokyo based Patrice Martineau (Peter, The Peninsula Tokyo).The event was held on July 3, but the New York based chefs departed for Tokyo on June 29. They spent July 1 and 2 doing initial culinary preparations in Tokyo. Early on the morning of July 3, the chefs and the food they had prepared with fine Japanese ingredients, traveled to Kamaishi and then on to the local community facility where they served lunch to over 2,500 people. Each of the visiting chefs personally served his own signature dishes, offering the simple pleasure of a good meal.
More of the story about the project on page 15, reported by Taeko Takigami, head coordinator of New York Cooks for Tohoku