New books examine extremes of Japanese cuisine

Two new books are taking very different approaches to showcasing world-renowned Japanese cuisine and appealing to very different readerships.

Both released by Kodansha International, the books examine the heights of Japanese cuisine as served up at Kitcho - widely regarded as Japan's premier dining establishment - and the equally important attention to detail that goes into millions of lunchboxes, for salarymen and school children, every day.

Kitcho: Japan's Ultimate Dining Experience has been written by chef Kunio Tokuoka, a master in the art of "kaiseki," Japan's own haute cuisine.

And although Tokuoka may be a master of his domain, this 192-page book underlines the remarkable simplicity that he has brought to his craft. It addresses - with some stunning photos - the best ways in which to coax the best flavors from a hearty stock and the optimum preparation for each ingredient in a meal so that they work in perfect union.

Kaisakei cuisine has its origins in the 16th century as an accompaniment to the tea ceremony. Over time, it evolved into a highly formalized and artistic cuisine that celebrated the seasons by making use of only fresh, local and natural ingredients.

Yet to many palates, the fare remained austere. Tokuoka's grandfather opened Kitcho in 1930; he began by combining the refined traditions of the tea ceremony with other classical Japanese elements to create a contemporary cuisine that took kaiseki to a new audience.

Kunio Tokuoka is the third generation to head the restaurant and the book not only deals with recipes but also the all-important presentation of food, entertaining, decoration of the dining area and broader Japanese aesthetics.

Makiko Itoh's book, The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches To Go, addresses a very different type of diner. For generations, wives and mothers have packed their husbands and children off for the day with a packed lunch. And given Japan's economic downturn and wives' increasing thriftiness, more and more bentos are being prepared daily.

The book contains more than 150 recipes, divided into two sections: One that will appeal primarily to Japanese diners and one that will have a more international appeal.

The classics include a recipe for perfect salted salmon or fried chicken, while the not-so-Japanese versions show how Western food can be adapted to the bento concept, with concoctions such as the "Everyone Loves a Pie Bento."

While many other books emphasize the cute and decorative side of bento-making, Itoh's book focuses more attention on the healthy and economic benefits of the bento.

Kitcho: Japan's Ultimate Dining Experience, by Kunio Tokuoka. Published by Kodansha International. Cover price Y5,500 /£30.00 $45.00. ISBN number 978-4-7700-3122-8. Out September 1 in the UK, November 1 in the US.

The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches To Go, by Makiko Itoh. To be released November 1 in the UK,  January 3, 2011 in the US. Published by Kodansha International. Cover price £13.99/$19.95. ISBN number 4770031246

JR

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