Japanese, French, Franco-Nippon, Fusion, Asian-Influenced: What’s in a Name?

Japanese, French, Franco-Nippon, Fusion, Asian-Influenced: What’s in a Name?
Three recent meals (at Ze Kitchen Galerie, Asafumi and Naomi Yamashita’s Le Kolo and the Concert de Cuisine) and a recent discussion at one of my new cyber-homes, Chowhound, have led me to reexamine the question of what to call food that’s neither purely French nor purely Japanese. (First two back-issues.  First, I do not make it a practice of eating “foreign”, that is, non-French food, in France, preferring to do in Rome…….  And second, I’m suspicious of “fusion” cuisine or blended cooking, preferring puristic examples.) Of the three places that got me thinking, let me start with the most recent at the Concert de Cuisine.  The chef, Naoto Masumoto, cooks in the open with a plancha/griddle in between himself and customers at the bar, using metal chop-sticks.  But there are no chopsticks on the tables, just Western utensils. Masumoto’s history is totally Japanese: born there, formed there, cooking at Benkay (the Japanese resto at the very Japanese Nikko) for some 10 years before opening up this bandbox on the Rue Nelaton across the street from the Ministry of the Interior. The food includes products that are French – pig’s feet, foie gras, girolles as well as Japanese – mushrooms, algae, komatsuma, umeschu, etc. As I was leaving I asked the chef what he called his cuisine: “Japanese, French, Franco-Nippon, Fusion, Asian-influenced?”  His answer was essentially “Yes.” Contrast this with our umpteenth meal at Ze Kitchen Galerie a few weeks ago.  Here a totally French-born, French-trained guy, William Ledeuil, who worked in one of the most French systems there is (chez Guy Savoy), most recently running and cheffing Les Bookinistes, immensely popular with Anglos 10 years ago, changed direction sometime after a trip to Asia. Here again one has French ingredients – chicken, calamari, cuttlefish, zucchini blossoms along with Japanese ones – barely identifiable teeny-tiny vegetables from Asafumi Yamashita’s small farm in Chapet and many Asian spices and herbs like his adorable lemongrass. Chef Ledeuil has one of the most eclectic and exotic staffs in the cuisine as I’ve ever seen.  While his chief chef (don’t call him a sous-chef – LeD doesn’t) is French, the rest of the crew looks everything from American to Asian and how much to and fro goes on between and among all is probably one of the reasons for his success. And finally, take Naomi et Asafumi Yamashita’s Le Kolo, he who grows these divine vegetables from seeds he brings in each year from Japan and she cooking them along with every known part of his Bresse chickens. OK, the Bresse chickens are French, but serving chicken breast raw like sashimi is certainly not and Yamashita’s tour of the growing sheds was eye-opening in showing how different his garlic, onion, eggplant, cabbage, carrots, well, everything, looked and tasted.  The onion tasted like onion, sure, but didn’t look like any in my market. I had a crazy Serb who worked for me years ago who said the reason his house plants were so healthy is that he fed them what he gave himself – cigarettes and whiskey.  Well, Yamashita’s chickens are a bit like that – eating the same veggies he fed us. In any case, I don’t know what Ledeuil or the Yamashitas would answer to the query I put to Masumoto but perhaps it would be “yes” too. The restos discussed here are : Le Concert de Cuisine 14, rue Nelaton in the 15th, (Metro: Bir-Hakeim) T: Closed Sundays and Saturday and Monday lunch Lunch menus 24 & 29, dinner 40 & 57 E.   Ze Kitchen Galerie 4, rue des Grands Augustins, 6th (Metro: Saint Michel) T: 01 44 32 00 32 Closed Saturday lunch and Sundays. Menus: 27, 30 and 35, a la carte 30-50 €.   Le Kolo aka La table d’hôte de Naomi et Asafumi Yamashita Chemin des Trois Poiriers – 78130 Chapet (Yvelines) T: 6-10 courses at lunch = 35 €; at dinner 50 € Chambre d’hote, 150 € a night for two, dinners and breakfasts included.   Fat Tire Bike Tours are great for seeing Paris in a different light. You’ll see more, have more fun, and not feel tired at the end of it. These are highly recommended and truly a great thing to do during your stay.

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