Cooking at Hyotei: The Photos

Cooking at Hyotei: The Photos


An extraordinary invitation prompted my trip to Japan this past June: A chance to spend a month training in the kitchen of Hyotei, the hallowed 400-year-old ryotei in Kyoto. Hyotei is no ordinary restaurant. Located along a historic pilgrim's route to Nanzen-ji Temple, it started out as a teahouse where travelers could rest, refresh and change their woven reed sandals before entering the temple's hallowed grounds, just up the road. Today, the original thatched-roof teahouse and genkan, or entranceway, still stand from four centuries ago -- and the direct descendents of the founders, the Takahashi family, still welcome guests 16 generations later. Hyotei defines the intrinsically Japanese notions of omotenashi, tea, and kaiseki ryori; to spend a month in the midst of the extended Takahashi family (that's what the restaurant felt like - a big family), was a profoundly seminal experience. It was also an incredibly moving one; I'm humbled by the welcome, kindness and warmth everyone there bestowed on me.

I've been thinking about how to write about this experience for weeks now. I could fill a book with what I saw and learned -- wait, there's an idea -- and I'm still unraveling everything in my mind. So right now, I thought to share a bunch of photos I took during my training to give you a glimpse inside this traditional kitchen. Cooks don't just work at Hyotei; they embrace a life of total commitment and focus -- they typically spend a decade training, and live in the restaurant's dorm. All the food was important, from the sublime dishes served to guests to the daily makanai, or staff meals. Ingredients were delivered every morning in tiny, absolutely fresh quantities by a steady stream of vendors, some whose companies have been supplying Hyotei for generations. And -- I love this -- the restaurant's signature dish was a simple soft-boiled egg, accented with a drop of soy sauce. An egg. The simplicity, velvety yolk, perfect eggy flavor of that egg, harvested by an elderly farmer in tiny farm in northern Kyoto, and carefully sliced in half and composed on in a stunning presentation says it all about Hyotei, and Japanese cooking. (My deepest thanks to the Takahashi family.) Here are the photos:

Posted by Harris Salat in Kyoto | Permalink | Comments (12) | Email | Print

Comments (12)

What gorgeous ingredients! This looks very special, indeed.
Incredible! You're SO lucky, Harris! Were you ok without speaking Japanese, or have you learned very quickly? And is it true that Hyotei uses ceramics by Rosanjin? Thank you for posting the photos. How amazing.
Harris, Wonderful photos that make me very natsukashi for a meal of such an exquisite nature. Cheers, Debra
Harris, very few people get to live their life's desire, their life's work, their life's passion in the way these pictures symbolize your experience. You are one of those very few. I am not a cook, but Japan, since I was a little girl watching classroom documentaries, has always been a source of curiosity which is probably why I am so hooked on their cuisine. I will probably never get to Japan in my life: but thank you for living your dreams and letting us read about it. You sound, like you have been living your dream ever since I came across this blog. As a reader, as a person who craves to be more informed on the Japanese and their way of life, you are giving me great joy.
Harris your ability to get into Japanese kitchens never ceases to amaze me. Write the book! Or at least a long New Yorker piece for the food issue. It would be incredible. And as always thank you for the JFR.
Harris - Your experience (and many others in your blog) sounds like a dream. Thank you for sharing and I'm looking forward to that book ;)
Harris, thank you for this. It boggles the mind,all of it. Thank you for sharing, and please give us more.
What a wonderful set of photographs--thanks for sharing with us both the photos and your experience!
Stunning photos, Harris! What an incredible life you lead with the most enviable "assignments," though they look more like dreams than work ever would. I kept thinking how difficult it must have been to leave Kyoto to come home. I, too, am in favor of your writing the book or getting the New Yorker food issue to include the article.
That egg. I think if I were able to taste that egg I may be able to die happily.
I want those fish head skewers - now that looks like it's going to end up a delicious barbeque...

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