At a time when Japanese cuisine is beginning to emerge from obscurity and is appealing to a growing public on account of its tastiness and dietary qualities, Hissa Takeuchi proves that there is also a great inventive cuisine in Japan that has often served as inspiration for French chefs... but hush!
Japanese cuisine in France: birth of a passion
In Paris alone, the Guide des restaurants japonais 2007 that appeared in January* lists 50 establishments serving 'authentic Japanese cuisine' (50 out of hundreds of others which are Japanese only by their name, of course). The recent infatuation of the French for Japanese cuisine is therefore a genuine phenomenon expressing real interest for Japanese culture and lifestyle, whether it be their plain decor, the attention paid to objects, the always discreet service or even the respect for artisanal trade (in Japan, artisans of renown are considered as a 'living national treasure' and enjoy special State protection!).
However, Japanese cuisine has above all appeared over the past ten years as a healthy and natural cuisine, rich in iodine and oligo-elements, and adapted to the seasons. A dietary cuisine, therefore, that also fascinates by its colours (the red of tuna, blue of mackerel, pink of sea bream, white of cuttlefish, and green of cucumber and wasabi) and its sobriety, like the vinegared white rice whose subtle taste enhances the natural taste of the other foods... Japanese cuisine has also quietly made inroads in the fast-food sector. For instance, bento to go or to be eaten on the premises, which is the Japanese equivalent of the western tray meal.
The ancestral creation of a people of fishermen and farmers surrounded by the sea, Japanese cuisine is today about to become, by its very simplicity, the symbol of a contemporary and universal cuisine, exactly like Italian cuisine hitherto!
Meeting with a sushi master
Hissa Takeuchi really is a distinctive character in the often highly conventional universe of Parisian gastronomy. To meet him, you first have to find his boutique tucked away in a little known street of the 15th arrondissement, close to Parc André Citroën, and hiding behind folding panels decorated with ideograms. I did say 'boutique' and not 'restaurant' for, at the beginning, in 1998, Hissa wanted to create a new concept of the caterer, called 'Kaiseki-Sushi', which would allow him to develop new recipes accessible to all (takeaway or to be eaten on the spot) without the trouble of a restaurant (no servers, minimalist decor).
At first sight, therefore, you have the impression of entering a workshop: the kitchen is wide open and separated from the dining room simply by a counter on which a collection of earthenware bowls attract attention. In fact it is more of a laboratory in which Hissa, cap squarely set on his head and knife in reach of hand, lets his creativity run wild.
Royal crab with pineapple, monk fish liver with yuzu sauce with chili, chicken with apricots and star anise sauce, soup with wheat miso, broccoli and wasabi, red tuna sashimi and its roquefort salad…
Let's not beat about the bush: traditional Japanese cuisine 'experts' will not find what they are looking for here. Hissa's cuisine is strictly personal, inventive and non conformist, straddling Japanese cuisine and French local produce!
Hissa is a creator of flavours and colours, a poet open to all emotions: he can talk to you about paintings (Cézanne and Monet), music (Beethoven), poetry (Rilke), cinema (Kurosawa) or even philosophy (Claude Levi-Strauss)… To his mind, cuisine is the art which, precisely 'allows you to retranscribe an emotion: a sea bream sashimi can be as beautiful as a branch of flowering cherry, a sunset or a piece of inestimable earthenware.'
In the West, cuisine is thought of as an act of transforming nature. In Japan, it is rather a way of communicating with nature, which the very old concept of 'Kaiseki' (literally 'banquet offered to the divinities of Nature') attempts to express. At Hissa's, this philosophical difference can be perceived on taking the first bite. The way he seasons and underscores the taste of each product in an overall harmony is therefore very impressive, like his sublime tartare of red tuna with raspberries and avocado, which is also a pictural work that you never tire of admiring!
Like any experienced sushi cook, Hissa trained for a very long time (more than 10 years) which has taught him perfect mastery of raw fish. The way fish is cut (in strips or cubes) indeed determines its taste. The cook must also know how to rid some fish of any bacteria and parasite that would make them unfit for consumption. Japanese cuisine is based on the principle of Ishoku-dôgen, in other words it is a variation of medicine.
7, bis rue André Lefebvre
Tel: 01 45 54 48 60