I thought I was about to read an intimate look at one of the world's greatest restaurants; instead I also received a fascinating look at Japanese culture through an unexpected prism.
Kitcho's cuisine and the way in which it is prepared and presented are skillfully portrayed through mouth-watering photography and wonderfully descriptions. Behind all this, though, are the influences of Zen, Shinto and, especially, the Japanese tea ceremony that really carried me away. In fact, the first photograph after the title page is one of chef Kunio Tokuoko sitting quietly in his tea house, examining a tea bowl. That sets the mood for a book that explores the importance of nature and the seasons in both the cuisine of the restaurant and in Japanese traditional life. In Nobuko Sugimoto's skillful text, flowingly captured in Juliet Carpenter's English translation, all this comes so vividly to life that by the time I put the book down, I felt as if I'd spent a year in Kyoto!
The layout of the book is one of its many joys. Each page seems to have been carefully thought out to create the perfect blend with the text. Often, beautiful brocade patterns unobtrusively grace a page's edge or the subtle rhythms of a calligraphy scroll form a fitting background for a page of text. Since we learn that ceramics can be "clothes for food," Kenji Miura's photos are not only arresting in their ability to make me feel I can almost taste the food, but the books many fascinating diversions, such as the section on Oribe ware, heightened my awareness of all that I was seeing in the picture, not just the food.
Another of the book's unexpected pleasures are the last four sections, which describe the kitchen, notes on the all-important rice and dashi stock and, finally, the food itself, after which comes a useful (and thorough) glossary. It's as if Kunio opens the door to his kitchen and says "Psst, come on in, let me show around before it gets too busy." We'll learn the unusual training of the staff, how dinner orders are tracked and so forth. And if you're not completely intimidated by Kunio's passion for perfection (wait until you read how he prepares sushi, rice grain by rice grain!), there are even recipes for some of his stocks and sauces that you could try yourself.