Osechi: Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series O-shogatsu Ryori

Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳
Yoshimi Tanigawa is an inspired master of Kyoto cuisine who has dedicated his life to food as an art and near spiritual experience. He teaches his students both taste and discipline. He creates pure Kyoto cuisine, without the excessive decoration that has been added in recent decades. At Tanigawa’s Kichisen, in addition to one of the greats meals of a lifetime, patrons are able to get reacquainted with authentic Kyoto cuisine. Tanigawa’s cuisine is unsurpassed Kyoto Kaiseki that draws on the four genres of Kyoto Cuisine; Yusoku Ryori (court cuisine), Kaiseki Ryori (tea ceremony cuisine), Shojin Ryori (temple food) and Obanzai (household food). If you are going to be in Kyoto and you like fine dining, make a reservation at Kichisen.

Yoshimi Tanigawa
We been trying to we had been trying to interview him for about 6 months. We had exchanged telephone calls, faxes and had some 5 meetings but could never close the deal. Finally when I went to return a book that we had borrowed from him he suddenly said that we ought to do an article on his Osechi Ryori. This is it!

Over the past few weeks I have spent some time at Kichisen getting to know Tanigawa. He has given us radishes, new rice, squid and some invaluable pointers on how to make excellent tsukemono, shiokara and dashi. Though Kichisen was reviewed in the New York Times 20 years ago and defeated Masaharu Morimoto on the Iron Chef television program in 1999, it is a real honor to have to opportunity to tell the English speaking world a bit more about this remarkable, dedicated and inspiring person.

Ikamaryu Shikibocho (Court Knife Ceremony) Master
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Humble Beginnings in Rural Hyogo
Tanigawa grew up in rural Hyogo Prefecture, near Kobe. He lost his father when he was 4 years old and this painful experience caused him think deeply about life and become interested in religion.

His mother was often in poor health and from the time he was 9, he cooked for his mother and older brother. While the young Tanigawa had meager resources to make a bento lunchbox with, he had pride and did not want he or his brother to appear poor at school. Over a weed fire, he experimented and perfected techniques adding water and flour to eggs, appearing to have an overflowing bento box, unmatched in the school lunchroom. Tanigawa’s ambition and inventiveness was starting to develop.

Change of Plans
Since junior high school Tanigawa had intended to become a primary school teacher. This was the time that socially and culturally Japan really began to change, he sensed that many people would loose their way and wanted to be a teacher so that he could lead children in the right direction and help them find their way.

Tanigawa set his mind on going to a certain high school known for producing excellent teacher but much to his dismay he wan unable to enter this school. It was the only school that he wanted to go to and as he was able, he decided not to go to high school at all.

Ikamaryu Shikibocho (Court Knife Ceremony) Master
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Arrival in Kyoto, Entering the Culinary World
At age 15 Tanigawa arrived in Kyoto. His older brother was working at a sushi restaurant in the city and arranged work at an average restaurant for the younger Tanigawa. Tanigawa said that even at a young age he knew that he was ambitious and always had the desire master what he was learning. He worked his way up and in several years was working in one of Gion’s finest restaurants under renowned master chef Toraichi Takibata.

Learned from the Master: Sunao
While under Takibata’s instruction, Tanigawa mastered the other traditional arts related to cuisine; flower arrangement, the tea ceremony and calligraphy. Tanigawa said that from his master he learned the importance of integrity and straightforwardness towards his cuisine, the customer and himself. (素直な料理、素直な味、素直な人間)

The word he uses, sunao (素直), is difficult to translate literally into English in this case. Some of the applicable meanings in the dictionary are: gentle, mild, obedient, frank. Tanigawa’s cuisine and traditional Kyoto cuisine are sunao.

Ikamaryu Shikibocho (Court Knife Ceremony) Master
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Kyoto Kaiseki Restaurant: Kichisen
At age 31, Tanigawa built is own restaurant on Shimogamo Hondori Street, on the south-west side of Shimogamo Shrine. Shimogamo Shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is older than Kyoto.

Kichisen Gate
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Kichisen Entry: Master Tanigawa and Kyosaku ‘Encouragement Stick’
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳
Notice the inscribed wooden slat on the wall, it is inscribed by the high priest at Jukoin, a sub-temple at Daitoku Temple. The inscription is called zengo, literally, ‘Zen word’ is a poem. This poem was composed specifically for Kichisen. The ‘encouragement stick’ is used to lightly hit drowsy meditators on the shoulder during Zen meditation sessions. The kyosaku, also known as keisaku, shall we say sets the tone for Tanigawa’s students.

Zen Kyosaku – detail
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳
Signature of Zen master.

Kichisen ‘Sign’
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳
Modesty

Kichisen Interior

Alcove with Ikebana
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Dining Room
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Large Dining Room
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Kichisen Neighborhood: Shimogamo Shrine

Kichisen Surroundings: Shimogamo Shrine Gate
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Kichisen Surroundings: Shimogamo Shrine and Tadasu Forest
Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa 京都吉泉 谷河吉巳

Links

Iron Chef – Battle Pike Eel (1 of 5)
Iron Chef – Battle Pike Eel (2 of 5)
Iron Chef – Battle Pike Eel (3 of 5)
Iron Chef – Battle Pike Eel (4 of 5)
Iron Chef – Battle Pike Eel (5 of 5)

6 Responses to “Osechi: Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa”

  1. Wow what a great story!

  2. Anita says:

    Fantastic! We enjoyed every morsel of food, every second of time we spent at Kichisen and every inch of space in our private room. You did a really nice job of describing the chef and his philosophy.

  3. […] Osechi New Year’s Cuisine Series on KyotoFoodie: Osechi: What is Kyo-ryori (Kyoto Cuisine)? Osechi: Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa Osechi: What is Osechi Ryori? Osechi: Shopping for Osechi Fish at Kyoto Wholesale Food Market […]

  4. […] “String Theory” strongly reminds me of shiki bocho, the Japanese art to super-complexly cutting a fish without touching […]

  5. Claudia says:

    Interesting post and great photos. I don’t think that fish stands a chance.

  6. Chef Dima says:

    The inside of his restaurant is just beautiful!

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