For the past three weeks I've been working as a shugyo, a trainee, at Takegami, a traditional ryotei in Tokyo's Akasaka district. Kamiya-san, the chef-owner (the gentleman on the left) graciously invited me into his kitchen, where I worked under Chef Abe-san (on the right) along with a group of outstanding cooks.
Akasaka is an area famous for its traditional Japanese ryotei - in fact, if you take a walk there around 4pm any sunny afternoon, you'll see a bunch of ryotei cooks on break milling about, wearing their Japanese-style white chefs coats and seta, traditional sandals. Takegami is tucked into a tiny side street (directions at the end of this post), a restaurant known for its handmade toothsome soba -- served 14 different ways -- and kaiseki-style menus, seven to choose from.
I worked quite a bit on my knife techniques at Takegami, especially cleaning fish and cutting vegetables. Please see my post with video on how to clean fish, and on knife sharpening, which I also focused on.
Speaking of knives, one of the key things Chef Abe instilled in me was to use the entire blade of my knife. Japanese knives are specialized and very practical. The length of the blade is not arbitrary. For example, the chef demonstrated how to peel kamo nasu, a squat eggplant, by sliding the entire blade of an usuba in a twisting motion to create a spiral cut. So the simple act of peeling itself became artful and beautiful. (Except when I tried it. But I got better after a dozen eggplants...)
If you come to Tokyo, I hope you visit Takegami to experience a beautiful, seasonal Japanese meal, including their amazing soba. It's a place invisible to tourists, but it shouldn't be. They have an English-language menu, and some of the wonderful staff speaks a few words of English, so it's accessible. Here's how you find the restaurant:
Take the Chioda line to Akasaka station. Get out at Exit 1, which brings you in front of a modern office building called Akasaka Biz Tower. On the ground floor of said building you'll see a restaurant called Cote de Rouge. Right across the street you'll notice a narrow lane going downhill (there's a Docomo shop on the corner). Walk halfway down the lane and you'll see trees sprouting up behind a wall, and then a traditional Japanese entrance on the right. That's Takegami. Enter. Enjoy. (Phone 03-3497-0489)
Finally, on my last night at the Takegami, Chef Kamiya graciously invited me to dinner at one of his other restaurants, a small, super elegant ryotei, also in Akasaka, named Nogizaka Kamiya (03-3497-0489). The food was fabulous, and beautiful. I thought you'd enjoy some photos:
Thank you Chef Kamiya and Chef Abe!