Chef Fumio Kikuta believes that the best food in the world is his mother’s
“Japanese food is minimalist, beautiful, elegant,” says Chef Fumio Kikuta, resident chef at ITC Gardenia’s EDO, the Japanese restaurant and bar. And looking down at the plate of sushi and sashimi that has been served to me, I conclude that he is right. The tiny rolls of rice and slender slivers of fish repose silently on my plate, looking too pretty to be eaten.
“Eat,” he tells me adding, “Japanese food is very healthy. The techniques used do not involve use of much oil or spices; there is a lot of steaming, poaching, and braising.”
He certainly should know. The chef has over 30 years of experience in the field, “My mother was a wonderful cook, she made the best food I’ve ever eaten,” says the chef. “I imbibed the art of cooking in her womb.”
He then obtained a professional diploma in Culinary Sciences and began working in a restaurant, “I joined a Japanese 5 star hotel when I was 18 years old. It was hard work,” he says. “I worked for 12-14 hours in the kitchen with hardly any breaks but I was happy.”
He credits much of his learning to his hiatus in that hotel, “I learnt a lot of things like how to care for and prepare meat, fish, and vegetables. Fresh produce is a very important aspect of Japanese cooking. If not really fresh, it can cause poisoning.”
The chef who has travelled and worked all across the world including Germany, Indonesia, UAE, Bahrain and now India admits that he is especially fond of grilled food and offers me a serving of robatayaki mori-an assortment of grilled food which includes a soya and sake marinated piece of black cod, a chicken and leek skewer, a prawn and scallops with asparagus and bell pepper. I bite into the chicken and taste gastronomic heaven, “Grilled food is very popular in Japan,” laughs the chef, “People finish work by 5 pm and then go for a drink. And Yakitori (chicken on a skewer) is what they eat along with their drink before they head home for dinner.”
I then sample a mushimo, steamed sea bass with marinated mince prawn, syokuji, stir-fried noodles and a agemono, a beautifully presented prawn and vegetable tempura served with a variety of sauces. “The tempura is the only thing we deep fry,” says the Chef. “But it is fried at a very high temperature so the amount of oil used is minimal,”
Another thing that characterizes Japanese food is their tendency to stick to seasonal ingredients, “We have four seasons in Japan—spring, summer, autumn and winter and we make different food in each season. In autumn we get mushrooms, in spring, cherry blossom. When bamboo is in season, we steam fish in its leaves,” he says.
I finish my meal with a refreshingly different yuzu cheesecake topped with a dollop of sour cherry ice cream, the Japanese elements in the flavours rather than the dessert itself. Japanese don’t have a concept of desert, per se, says the Chef, “We eat a lot of fresh fruit mostly,” he says though there is also dorayaki-a pancake stuffed with sweetened red beans. “I don’t like dessert much,” admits the chef which possibly accounts for his enviably slender waistline. “But I love biryani,” he grins.