October 14, 2007

An Insightful Experience with Kei in her Kitchen

Before I begin... I would just like to say a few words to Monique Wong. THANK YOU! ...
I know you've heard it a million times from my emails; but thank you for your generosity and thoughtfulness. I would never had found this wonderful class on my own, or made an initiative to find it with my tight schedule of Uni and Cakes. Throughout the class; I was wishing you were there with me; and I had you on my mind every time I learnt something new.

You see; Monique moved to Sydney with her hubby just recently; and she had booked for Kei's Kaiseki Class way in advance, not anticipating their spontaneous trip to Europe. She could not make it on last Saturday and did not want it to go to waste. She thought of me; the girl from the blog she reads. *jaw drops* an unknown stranger... to take her place.. just simply because she knows I love to cook. I was overwhelmed.
I cleared up my busy schedule for Saturday morning...and made my way far up north to Kei's. It was a fair walk down from the main road; but it gave me a chance to appreciate the Spring weather and flowers. I got a little lost along the way; but Masako; Kei's daughter was very helpful with instructions to their lovely home.
I was indeed excited; I had read all about Kaiseki and what it was about. I've never formally made an attempt to learn more about Japanese cuisine or culture; despite having gone all the way to Japan~ but this was it! I was ready to absorb!
Here's a quote from Kei's website;

Kaiseki cuisine is a traditional Japanese meal, usually consisting of around nine courses served in a prescribed order.

The modern day kaiseki is a rather sumptuous affair, but paradoxically, its origin is a minimalist, strictly vegetarian meal, almost humble in spirit. It was traditionally served in Zen temples to accompany the tea ceremony.

In the Japanese language, this original Zen "kaiseki" is a combination of two words-"kai" which refers to the bosom of the kimono, and "seki" meaning stone. Much like the warmed stones Zen priests used to tuck into the bosoms of their kimonos to heat their empty stomachs to ward off hunger, the original kaiseki was a small meal, taken not to satisfy, but merely warm the stomach before strong green tea was ingested. It consisted of one soup, three small seasonal dishes and just three mouthfuls of rice. It was a meal of restraint-just seasonal ingredients, simply prepared.

While the original Zen "kaiskei" exists in its pure form to this day and is still served as part of the tea ceremony, today's kaiseki is quite a different affair. It is a much heartier and sophisticated meal centered on the drinking of sake (rice wine) rather than tea, and is very elaborate in presentation.

Though the two kaiseki are homonyms, today's kaiseki is a totally different word in Japanese made up of two words-"kai" meaning to meet, and "seki" meaning seat.

I was joined by a group of enthusiastic cooks in the kitchen..and when class began; information began to roll in so very quickly! I had a mental overload for the first couple of minutes! Everything was new to me! They had given us menu's and recipes to read before the class began; but the intensity in the kitchen and the various new Japanese words to familiarize with was a little too overwhelming. There was so much to learn from Chef Kei and Masako; they are both such talented individuals, experts in their field of Japanese Cuisine. I was in awe of their professionalism and patience with us beginners.

I learnt more than I can imagine about Japanese Kaiseki in class that morning; and 2 new discoveries about myself.
  1. I can't slice raw sashimi style fish.. I get 2 out of 10 slices right *tear* Su needs more practice!
  2. and broadbeans and cherry tomatoes are my new favourite things!

The class flowed smoothly till noon with everyone having fun getting their hands dirty. Everyone helped set the table; and Kei taught us the importance of food presentation in Japanese cuisine. *This was definitely my favourite part of the class!*

We sat down to enjoy the fruit of our harvest... It was like nothing else!
The Experience was truly Japanese...
Here's what we were so lucky to have for lunch on Saturday;

The Late Spring Menu

Sakizuke - The Appetizer (Cherry tomatoes in Miso and broadbeans)
Wanmono - The Seasonal Broth (Deep fried ocean perch flowers with pickled plum paste and okra)Mukozuke - The Cold Dish/Sashimi ( Snapper in Kinome with wasabi and special Soy Sauce)
Yakimono - The Grilled Dish (Tofu grilled with Kinome Miso)
Takiawase - The simmered Dish (Burdock Root roll with Chicken, snow peas and carrots)
Sunomono - The Vinegared Dish/Salad ( Trevelly in sweet ginger dressing with soft cucumber and Wakame seaweedGohan - The Final Rice ( Chirashizushi with Prawn and progressively cooked vegetables, paper thin omelette, Snow Peas, Lotus root and a hint of Kinome)
The meal was sensational! I'm not certain if I have the capability of replicating this exact meal in my kitchen with no help; but I'll definitely be giving it a try! The flavours from every tiny dish harmonized beautifully with one another. The care and attention given to every detail absolutely blew me away.

I left Masako and Kei that afternoon; knowing I'm taking away new skills and understanding of Japanese cuisine. I waved goodbye with much appreciation for a wonderful and insightful morning; I wouldn't have wanted to spend it any other way!
I'm back home now... exhausted from lifes other obligations; but I still do think about my fellow 'classmates' from Kei's. It had been so much fun meeting new people and hearing their part of the story. I handed around my name card with my email address on it; I hope they keep in touch; I should bribe them with beautiful photos of themselves from Saturday morning! *giggle*

*p.s: As for the recipes of each item; I wont be circulating them. You'll have to visit Kei and Masako and learn them for yourself. The class is truly worth every moment! Sign up early! Spots are go quickly~ and are limited.


Anonymous said...

OMMGG hheyy!!
I was looking through your previous works and WOW!!! You really are a genius! Everything is so artistic and detailed!! I must order both cakes and cupcakes from you soon hee hee mmmmmmmm when you open up your store please open it up in the north shore so I can visit everyday :P

Monique said...

Hey hey! Wow... waaaah... my... the food looks amazing. I just love how the Japanese put their food together, and the presentation part is certainly an art in itself! Everything looks so pretty, so coordinated, so 'studied'.

Looks to me that you had a great experience in that class and I'm really glad about it! Thanks also for all the great pictures (you were the only one taking pics while everyone else were busy working?! haha) Too bad they won't be holding classes in December... I wish I could attend and try it out for myself. Ah...

Unknown said...

amazing! it looks like a great time and the food presentation (which like youreself, i am a fan of!) is lovely!

cupcake said...

hey su yin!!!
heheh the pictures look sooo good! - almost gives away the tastieness of the food :D

i love your blog btw! i'm so upset i can't come to your afternoon tea though cos i am in newcastle

ttys!! - lu

Anonymous said...

hey su-yin.. i was wondering.. (and i know this is off topic.) do you know any good recipes for nutella?? i love it sooo much and i just bought some but im trying to figure out what else i can use it for.. except for toast in the mornings lol.

SIG said...

What an experience! Sensational.

Su-Yin -D├ęcorateur said...

Hey everyone~ It was heaps of fun! haha..I'm so glad I went for it.

l: I hope you'll be able to make a trip down for my next high tea ;) hehe

brooke: *look up~* ;)