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Precise as clockwork. Each step follows a defined sequence. Each cut is like a ritual. Each movement follows a traditional rhythm. Hideaki Matsuo, head chef at the Kashiwaya restaurant, positions the knife on the isaki fish with pinpoint accuracy. As if on an invisible thread, the blade glides through the delicate glistening pink flesh before it comes into contact with the flame. Matsuo has a precise instinct of when the fish has reached its perfect cooking time on the grill.
Mere moments later, the isaki is mixed with sudachi, a type of citrus fruit, and myoga, a Japanese vegetable specialty from the ginger family. All creating a sea of flavors on the plate. However, the lasting impression of the dish is not only due to the recipe and artful preparation; the origin of the fish also has a lot to do with it.
The Oseto brothers farm this fish in Kushimoto, about a two-hour drive south of Osaka (➜ Read also: Osaka for gourmets) in Wakayama Prefecture. Although each fish enclosure could hold around 20,000 isaki, they keep no more than half that number there to make sure each fish has enough room. Respect for nature (➜ Read also: How BMW protects the environment) and the product used are hallmarks of the special cuisine to which Matsuo as well as his family have dedicated themselves.
Kashiwaya is a Japanese kaiseki restaurant located in Senriyama, Osaka. An unusual location, at first glance, for such an exceptional restaurant would usually be expected to be found in Kyoto or Tokyo – not in a quiet residential area of Osaka, a city famous for unpretentious but delicious street food. Looking closer, however, it is this very food culture that forms the roots of the restaurant and the current culinary idea.
Matsuo’s father opened Kashiwaya in 1977 to serve informal and local cuisine. Matsuo was soon drawn into the allure of the culinary art. He trained as a chef at Shofukuro, a renowned Japanese kaiseki restaurant. Returning to Kashiwaya in 1989 at the age of 26, he took over as head chef five years later. Matsuo has consistently held three Michelin stars for twelve years, and in 2021 he added his first green star for his particularly sustainable kitchen philosophy.
Kaiseki restaurants are all about hospitality. During his time at university, Matsuo studied sado, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony that is the basis of Kashiwaya’s concept as a kaiseki restaurant. All ingredients should be fresh, regional and seasonal and prepared to present their natural aroma to their best advantage. Ideally, the environment and season should also be reflected in the menu rotation.
The head chef arranges everything with meticulous dedication to detail – from the flowers in the room, through the presentation of the food and the art on the walls, to the carefully controlled temperature of the hot soup. His first sight of the new BMW i7 (➜ Read also: The new light on the road), which we have parked in front of the restaurant, also inspires him to make an intriguing comparison: as a head chef, he adopts the role of a passionate chauffeur in his restaurant. As guests take their seats in the comfortable rear seating under the panoramic roof, Matsuo guides and steers them along an unparalleled route through the culinary seasons.
The tea ceremony is focused on the unhindered enjoyment of the moment, explains Matsuo. “Blocking out everyday life, but also social statuses. For example, the Cha-shitsu, a sacred room in the building, had only one very small door, originally used to prevent samurai from bringing their swords into the ceremony, or to force important and higher-ranking people to kneel when entering the room – making everyone inside equal. Guests should have the sense that they will experience what is happening only once in a lifetime. An experience to remember.”
As a triple-starred head chef, Matsuo finds himself among a small, exalted circle. In doing so, the culinary journey to which he has committed himself at Kashiwaya reflects the transformation in how luxury is perceived. Abundance, waste and excessive ornamentation are no longer the essence, but unique experiences or the joy of conscious enjoyment. The expected is so passé. The new luxury surprises us with unusual details – which, as at the Kashiwaya, combine centuries-old traditions with future-looking thinking. Matsuo’s philosophy is to use many ingredients, but just a little bit of each. “Overusing an ingredient is not sustainable, so we use what’s good in the amount we can produce without harming nature.”
The maxim, as with a luxury vehicle, is: get the best out of every ingredient. Sustainability and short cycles (➜ Read also: Sustainability in every car BMW builds) are also in the spotlight in BMW i7 production. As well as purchasing green electricity, many other measures at the Dingolfing plant contribute to this, such as an energy-efficient plant fleet, recycling and water management.
Besides the multiple deployment of manufacturing robots in body construction, resource consumption in the paint shop has also been further reduced, for example. Cathodic dip coating and dry deposition can significantly reduce both water and energy requirements. This is how the BMW i7 innovatively demonstrates how tradition as a luxury vehicle and emission-free driving pleasure go hand in hand.
Everything in the restaurant is inspired by the current season; the attention to detail is omnipresent. During a summer visit, Matsuo selected a ceramic depicting a winter flower. A deliberate choice. It should exude a feeling of coolness. Even a small chopstick rest was designed in a dragonfly shape. The luxury is in the detail. Sustainable awareness is also everywhere in the furnishings. Textile artist Sachio Yoshioka designed two of the rooms using minato-gami, a traditional Japanese material made into wallpaper from recycled paper. The chairs were custom made by Osaka-based furniture maker Satoru Shinki.
A balance of cultures, with the guest always at the center. There are several menus to choose from, all tasting menus with a fixed set of small dishes. The menu changes monthly, and he sometimes creates special menus for selected guests who visit more than once a month. Yet another analogy with the BMW i7 – its individual paints are composed by the painters entirely in this style. And if Matsuo knows the guests particularly well, he adds their favorite dishes to the menu.
Then the kitchen catches our attention again. It’s amazing how a team of three chefs work together to prepare a seemingly simple bowl of hot soup. This is considered the most important dish of the course at Kaiseki. While one of the trio heats the bowl of hot water, another prepares the fish, which is cooked separately from the broth. While the fish is being steamed and put in a bowl, the third cook begins to heat the broth. As soon as the fish is ready, the broth is poured into the bowl over controlled heat. As it is being poured, one of the chefs prepares to close the lid. Once that is done, the dish is rushed to the table with discreet elegance. A process that takes not minutes, but just a few seconds. Precision craftsmanship at its best – and proof of the magic that teamwork can unleash.
Whether in the shijimi balls and kuzu tofu garnished with the skin of tougan, a type of melon, and yuzu or grilled scallops that follow: Matsuo is always looking for new ingredients to challenge his cuisine without using endangered or hard-to-get ingredients. The future is a question that is always closely linked to a commitment to change in the present – and not just in fine dining.
Matsuo wants to demonstrate this to us with an example that we have already had on our plates – and invites us to take a little ride. Matsuo takes the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the BMW i7 himself on the drive to Kushimoto to visit the Oseto brothers’ fish farm. Not as a chauffeur, but as a curious explorer.
The situation on the Pacific Ocean with its natural bays and inland sea is not only an ideal location for breeding, but also shows the varied fascination of nature. Matsuo works with scientists, farmers, and chefs to change the perception of these farmed fish.
Together with Dr. Yoshifumi Sawada, professor at the Aquaculture Research Institute at Kindai University, he began studying the possibility of farming aigo, a herbivorous fish species, to reduce the environmental impact of fish farming. This is because farmed fish are usually fed pellets made from wild-caught fish – one of the causes of overfishing. And the success confirms his sustainable vision. By raising them at less than half the maximum capacity of the floating enclosures, the Oseto brothers have successfully added a more intense flavor to the rather drab isaki fish.
Matsuo’s home is a culinary adventure playground. Kashiwaya’s cuisine is rich in emotion and relies on imagination while paying homage to time-tested traditions. Anyone consciously embarking on this voyage of discovery for all the senses is sure to be rewarded with a unique experience that brings the most diverse facets of pleasure. All you actually have to bring to enjoy this luxury experience (➜ Read also: The grand tour of Switzerland) is the greatest luxury of our time: time itself.
Author: Markus Löblein; Art: Shin Miura, Ha My Le Thi; Photos: Kentaro Ito