Take 13 former Roux Scholars on a culinary tour of Japan and you won't find yourself in a group of people without much to talk about. Kerstin Kühn reports
In September, members of the Roux Scholarship Club, the elite group of former winners of the prestigious culinary competition headed up by the Roux family, went on a 10-day educational tour to Japan. The trip, sponsored by Virgin Atlantic, took in some of Japan's most historic sites and iconic restaurants as well as visits to soy sauce, tofu and sake producers and the famous Tsukiji market. The Scholars also cooked at a gala charity dinner at the Peninsula hotel Tokyo in aid of the Japanese Tsunami Fund, for which they helped to raise more than £100,000. Here, a few of the Roux Scholars share some of the highlights from their once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan.
James Carberry, 1992 Roux Scholar
DINNER AT TEMPURA FUKUSHIMA, TOKYO
Seated around a bar counter, we watched the master cook tempura Á la minute for each of us, one by one. The first thing that struck me as we sat down were the beautiful artisan bowls and crockery. We were served an amuse bouche of vegetable pickles and squid sashimi. This was followed by fresh crispy tempura of vegetables and fish. The cooking of the tempura Á la minute for such a large group was impressive and gave us an understanding of tempura at its best and how it should be eaten. We also enjoyed a refreshing salad and some clam miso soup between tempura courses. This was a great introduction to a classic Japanese style of cooking; we left the restaurant with a new perspective on tempura.
Kenneth Culhane, 2010 Roux Scholar
GALA DINNER AT THE HOTEL PENINSULA TOKYO
MENU â- Marinated scallops with pickled kohlrabi, finger lime & soy, by André Garrett
â- Chilled cucumber soup, by Matthew Tompkinson
â- Sweet pea panna cotta with crab and cicely, mango and dashi sorbet and brown crab toast, by Simon Hulstone
â- Braised ox cheek with sea vegetables and oyster cream, by Sat Bains
â- Jelly and ice-cream with yuzu, coconut and melon, by Andrew Jones
â- Raspberry cream tea, raspberry sorbet and shortcake, by Steve Love
The day started in the kitchens at the Peninsula where we would be serving a banquet that evening for 120 specially invited guests to raise as much money as we could to help the Japanese Tsunami Fund. We had been planning the banquet with Adam Mathis, the executive chef at the Peninsula for over three months and had chosen six Scholars to each submit a dish. Adam's team presented the dishes with all the minor adjustments that had been noted at a tasting the previous day and the Scholars split into teams of two to help prepare for what was promising to be a spectacular event. At 7.45pm precisely the first course left the kitchen and it was a pleasure to watch the Japanese chefs work - they were so well drilled and elegant we all agreed we didn't actually need to be there to supervise. We decided that instead of dishing the soup for Matthew Tomkinson's course in the kitchen, all of the chefs would take the chilled soup into the dining room and pour it into the garnished bowls in front of the guests for added theatre. Walking into that beautiful room to a round of applause from a predominantly Japanese audience was a very proud moment for us all. After the last course was cleared, it was announced that we had raised over £100,000 for the charity, which raised a huge cheer from everyone.
Andrew Fairlie, 1984 Roux Scholar
DINNER AT THE WHITE FOX, TOKYO
Arriving at a suburb of Tokyo, close to the tube station exit was the White Fox, which is run by former Roux Scholar Trevor Blyth and his wife, Hiromi. We went upstairs above a shop, which was nothing very impressive from the outside, but the restaurant was very chic and minimalist inside. The bar and restaurant is for locals and foodies alike, serving a fantastic food and drinks selection, including great sake. Trevor gave us all a six-course tasting menu. We had our first taste of sake of the trip and there were so many amazing taste and texture combinations of which foie gras carpaccio with aloe vera, white raisins, brioche and yuzu crumble was just one highlight. The meal was a fantastic introduction to Japanese flavours, cooked in Trevor's innovative style.
Jonathan Harrison, 1993 Roux Scholar
DINNER AT A PUFFER FISH RESTAURANT
We dined at the two-Michelin-starred Fugu Fukuji, a Fugu restaurant in Ginza, which specialises in the highly poisonous puffer fish. Our meal consisted of a series of courses of the fish served in different ways, starting with sashimi of the flesh, belly and skin, some of which was quite gelatinous. Tempura style, the fish was light and delicious. This was followed by a hotpot in which various cuts of the fish were cooked in front of us in a broth with vegetables into which they cracked a couple of eggs and served it with rice. It was funny to see all the Scholars nervously eating the puffer fish but it was a tasty and unique experience that we felt privileged to experience.
Sat Bains, 1999 Roux Scholar
VISIT TO A TRADITIONAL JAPANESE RYOKAN "EBISUYA" IN KAMAKURA
We boarded a local train for the hour-long train ride to Kamakura, home to the biggest Buddha outside of the Buddha bar in Dubai, but I think this one was real! It was amazing and the setting was very dramatic. From there we went to Enoshima, a small island, where we stayed in a traditional Japanese Ryokan. These are very basic spa hotels where the Japanese go to switch off and relax. The first thing we all did was get dressed up in our traditional Yukata (robe) and then we skinny dipped in the volcanic spa. What a way to see the Roux Scholars! For dinner we had a traditional Kaiseki meal which consisted of sushi and rice which we ate sitting on the floor in a big square. We had an early night and returned to the Roykan where we all slept on futons on the floor.
Simon Hulstone 2003 Roux Scholar
LUNCH AT HACHINOKI IN KITA-KAMAKURA
Hachinoki in Kita-Kamakura is a one-Michelin-star restaurant serving traditional monks' food, all of which is vegetarian. Shojin ryori was brought to Japan via China and Korea, together with the introduction of Buddhism and it means a devotion to pursue a perfect state of mind banishing worldly thoughts and making efforts to always strive for limitless perfection. We did Kampai, a Japanese toast with sake floating with chrysanthemum flowers. We had 12 wonderful courses with vegetables, especially soya beans and nuts, as the main ingredients. Highlights included a lotus root purée made to look like glazed eel served with ponzu, and a gluten sandwich filled with yellow chrysanthemum flower. The food had great textures and flavours, probably some of the best vegetarian food I have eaten and cleverly created to resemble fish and meat.
Steve Love, 1997 Roux Scholar
DINNER AT WA YAMAMURA THREE-MICHELIN-STAR KAISEKI RESTAURANT
That night's dinner was the most anticipated meal of our trip so far. But on arrival at Wa Yamamura in Nara, a few kilometres from Kyoto, I couldn't help but feel a little underwhelmed. The picture I had in my head of a grand opulent three-Michelin-star Japanese restaurant could not have been further from the reality - a small and understated restaurant situated on a side street off the railway track and under a block of flats with only 30 seats, nine of them at the bar. We were greeted on arrival by chef Nobuhiro Yamaura, who was extremely humble and gracious. The food, or rather banquet, of 18 dishes was truly an example of someone at the top of their game. I ate as near to perfection as I ever have in my life. To describe all of the dishes would take too long, and yet they all had their merits and deserved their place in this feast.
But one particular high point was the sashimi, the simplest sliced fish turned into a work of art served on crushed ice which had been set in the bowl just long enough so that it held the fish without melting and washing away the flavour.
Andrew Jones 2004 Roux Scholar
DINNER AT THE THREE-MICHELIN-STARRED KIKUNOI, KYOTO
I had dreamed of eating at Kikunoi for years and hoped it was going to be the highlight of the trip. After our experience the previous night at the new three-star restaurant in Nara and the awesome, fresh, vibrant food there, could Kikunoi scale even greater heights? Chef Murata is a powerhouse in Japanese cooking and world renowned as one of the best in Kaiseki cuisine. We took off our shoes and were taken upstairs to our dining room, where we sat facing each other on low chairs with our own small tables. Some of the dishes were amazing. I really liked the walnut tofu to start, the sashimi was the best quality possible and the broth in which we cooked our own Matsitaki mushrooms and Hamo fish (pike eel) was wonderful. Other dishes did not quite hit the high notes with us. But overall Kikunoi was an amazing experience, the service was exceptional, the history of the place was inspiring and Murata and his wife were great hosts.
André Garrett, 2002 Roux Scholar
GOLDEN TEMPLE AND NISHIKI ICHIBA FOOD MARKET
We took a tourist bus to see the famous Golden Temple in Kyoto and what a sight. Covered in gold leaf and set in a tranquil site on the edge of a lake, surrounded by sculptured trees and lichen-covered rocks, it was indeed serenely calm. This was a great contrast to the Nishiki Ichiba food market, geared for the tourists but with plenty of locals alike. We saw the full spectrum of food - from live baby fish, cooked baby octopus with a boiled quail's egg in its head, to caramelised eel liver and plenty of marinated exotic fish. Then on to a main course of stick food, a bit like a corndog but with fillings of shrimp and onion, lotus root and octopus. After that a traditional green tea ceremony "Bikouen", a ceremony started 500 years ago by monks. Its calmness and reverence was just what we needed.
Brian Turner, Roux Scholarship judge
TREVOR BLYTH, THE ROUX SCHOLAR IN JAPAN
"Having lived in Japan for more than a decade and having become familiar with its incredibly unique cuisine and culture, I have wanted the Roux Scholars to visit for years. After the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the consequent threat of nuclear disaster from the crippled Fukushima reactor and the rapidly rising Yen, I almost gave up hope that this would ever happen. "Tokyo needs tourists but nobody wants to come," was the feeling across the whole of the hospitality industry here.
Then in March 2012, almost a year to the day after the earthquake, Michel Roux called to let me know he was bringing the Scholars to Japan. "This is the right time to do the trip, time to give our little bit of support to Japan," he said. Six months later they all arrived in Tokyo for a whirlwind 10 days of sushi, sashimi, fugu, tempura, keiseki ryori, shojin ryori, unagi, tepanyaki, okonomiaki, nabe, soba, tofu, gyoza, yuba, donburi, bento, macha, quite a lot of sake and a little bit of yakitori. In between that and the temples, shrines, sumo, daibutsu, shinkansen, ryokan and onsen. They also made time, with the help of Adam Mathis and his team at the Peninsula hotel, to cook a truly fantastic gala dinner, the proceeds of which went to help the victims of the tsunami.
Having written thank-you letters to the restaurants that we visited, many of the chefs and proprietors have graciously written back to say how they enjoyed hosting such food-loving people. With that sentiment I totally agree. I can't think of a better bunch of guys to show around Tokyo. My wife ,Hiromi, and I had a fantastic time too. But in a city with 239 Michelin stars and more than 160,000 restaurants, we only just scratched the surface."
MICHEL ROUX, SCHOLARSHIP FOUNDER
"I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and was so proud of my Scholars, they were like kids in a sweet shop, everywhere we went. They were so respectful, yet excited to learn about everything and discover new tastes, textures and to experience the culinary treasures of Japan. That's what makes these trips worthwhile, we all learn from the experiences and talking about them afterwards.
"We all took away something unique that will inspire us in our cooking for the future, and that includes Michel Jr. and myself. I'm delighted that we were able to give back to the country in the form of the wonderful banquet that the scholars prepared, together with the team at the Peninsula, which raised so much money for the tsunami charities."
ROUX SCHOLARS IN JAPAN
Sat Bains, chef-proprietor, Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms, 1999 Roux Scholar
Trevor Blyth, chef proprietor, White Fox, 1996 Roux Scholar
James Carberry, lecturer in culinary arts, Dublin Institute of Technology, 1992 Roux Scholar
Kenneth Culhane, head chef, the Dysart Arms, 2010 Roux Scholar
Steve Drake, chef-patron, Drake's, 2001 Roux Scholar
Andrew Fairlie, chef-patron, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, 1984 Roux Scholar
André Garrett, head chef, Galvin at Windows, 2002 Roux Scholar
Jonathan Harrison, chef-patron, Sandpiper Inn, 1993 Roux Scholar
Simon Hulstone, head chef, the Elephant, 2003 Roux Scholar
Andrew Jones, head chef, Chamberlains, 2004 Roux Scholar
Steve Love, chef-proprietor, Loves Restaurant, 1997 Roux Scholar
Michel Roux, owner, the Waterside Inn
Michel Roux Jnr, chef-patron, Le Gavroche
Richard Stuart, assistant VP food & beverage, Galaxy Hotel Macau, 1987 Roux Scholar
Matthew Tompkinson, head chef, Montague Arms, 2005 Roux Scholar
Brian Turner, president, Academy of Culinary Arts and Roux Scholarship judge
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Catererandhotelkeeper.com jobs