Interview: chef Yoshihiro Murata on steering the future of Japanese cuisine

Jan 12, 2018

Kaiseki master Yoshihiro Murata talks about the importance of his life’s work of promoting Japanese cuisine.

Third-generation owner of his family’s century-old three-Michelin-star ryotei, Kikunoi in Gion, Kyoto, chef Yoshihiro Murata is undeniably a man of ambition. The famed king of kaiseki opened the kappo-style (counter seating) two-Michelin-star Roan Kikunoi (Kyoto) and two-Michelin-star Akasaka Kikunoi (Tokyo). Adding to this platter of accolades, chef Murata created the non-profit NGO Japan Culinary Academy in 2004 to foster awareness of Japanese cuisine abroad and develop new generations of Japanese chefs in Japan. His latest venture is Tokimeite in London, an innovative Japanese restaurant based on traditional kaiseki cuisine in collaboration with ZeN-Noh, a Japanese agriculture cooperative.

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Having been part of Singapore Airlines’ International Culinary Panel for two decades, Murata has been able to spread awareness and appreciation for Japanese cuisine across the world through the Airline’s inflight Japanese cuisine. It was only as recent as 2013 that washouku – traditional Japanese cuisine – was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Murata, along with other Japanese chefs and academics, was part of the campaign in making this happen. “Before this listing, there were about 56,000 Japanese restaurants in the world but in a recent survey, there are now about 91,000. Export of Japanese ingredients has doubled as well. I think we can double that again by 2020,” says Murata.

While seasonality and quality of ingredients both play similarly important roles in his dishes on board and at his restaurant Kikunoi, Murata says he is also invested in the skills of the chefs cooking his food. “I bring the chefs cooking my food for SIA to Kikunoi to train them,” he says. “SIA also regularly reviews dishes and tableware. We have adjusted menus and improved efforts on presentation as per changing passenger behaviour.”