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Japan: Flavors of Culture
From Sushi & Soba to Kaiseki
A Global Celebration of Tradition, Art & Exchange
The Culinary Institute of America 13th Annual Worlds of Flavor Conference & Festival

From November 4-6, 2010, the first comprehensive international conference on Japanese food was held at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus in beautiful Napa Valley. 50 chefs from Japan, Europe, the U.S. and South America gathered to share ideas, recipes and inspiration with an audience of 1000 participants. We were present as media guests to cover Japan: Flavors of Culture, a once-in-a-lifetime professionals-only forum.

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystonetitute of

The three-day conference featured a roster of luminaries in the Japanese culinary world, including Yoshihiro Murata and Kunio Tokuoka, as well as American stars influenced by Japanese cuisine such as David Keller and David Chang. All came on a volunteer basis, in some cases closing their restaurants for up to two weeks, as in the case of Daigo chef/owner Daisuke Nomura. Such was their desire to share their expertise with their peers and celebrate Japan's standing in the culinary world. The timing was perfect, with Tokyo and now, Kansai boasting more Michelin stars than any other city or region in the world. Just imagine the top rated Michelin-starred chefs of France doing the same back in the 60s, and you can imagine the groundbreaking event and subsequent ripple effect on the world culinary scene.

Ruth Reichl gave a history of Japan's increasing influence on the world and on America's culnary landscape. Such concepts as kisetsukan (seasonality), local production and support of local producers and simple cooking tchniques that preserve the essence of ingredients are all Japanese concepts that been widely adapted by kitchen throughout the world.

One concept that was mentioned by almost all speakers and presenters was umami, the fifth taste (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter): meaning "savory" or "meaty". We learned the best way to coax the most umami out of kombu and katsuobushi from Murata, and new combinations of components, such as beef and kombu shared by Tokuoka. We also learned of the science behind the amino acids that are recognized by our tastebuds, including glutamatic acid, and that every human being knows and craves this sustenance as early as our very first encounter with food: mothers' milk.

A dizzying line up of world-class chefs shared recipes, which we were able to taste during lunch and dinner breaks; an overwhelming festival of flavors that filled the cavernous exhibition hall and mulitple kitchens of the campus. We sampled Kyubey's stellar sushi, Ivan Orkin's famous ramen, and wonderful modern Japanese dishes that combine Japanese and Western ingredients from Masayasu Yonemura.

Closing ceremony at the CIA's Japan: Flavors of Culture conference and seminar

A conference video will eventually be available, and we will share some highlights with you in the Learn section on a ongoing basis, starting this month with a profile on Kunio Tokuoka. If you missed it, please visit the three-part blog posting that covered this amazing forum: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

We'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Culinary Institute of America and especially the conference organizers for not only inviting us to the event, but orchestrating such an amazing extravaganza. Thanks also go to the conference sponsors, for without their help it would not have been possible, as the CIA is a non-profit organization, and despite the many volunteers and chefs who freely gave of their time and expertise, the expenses were huge for this world-class event.



Chefs at the Japan: Flavors of Culture conference
Left: The CIA's Greystone campus. Above: Backstage. Below: Kunio Tokuoka and Toshihiro Murata at their book signings.
Kunio Tokuoka and Yoshihiro Murata
Marketplace, a festival at the Worlds of Flavor Conference
Left: The closing ceremony. Above: The World Marketplace, a festival of Japanese flavors, where attendees sampled Japanese food and drink, from sushi to sake. Below: a wansashi otsukuri platter by kaiseki chef Hisato Nakahigashi.
Otsukuri platter