********** Yoshinori Ishii Executive chef of Japanese restaurant UMU in London ******************
------------------ 英国の日本料理店 UMU 総料理長 石井義典 のつれづれなる話 ------------


Young chef’s competition and visiting Portuguese fisherman 和食コンペティションとポルトガルの伝統漁師

November last year, a preliminary round of a competition for rising young chefs specialising in Japanese cuisine overseas, an event sponsored by the ministry of agriculture, held in London before the final round taking place Japan. I was appointed as a chairman of the occasion as well as a demonstrator.
An established food writer Mr. Matthew Fort, celebrity chefs, Mr. Brett Graham from Ledbury and Mr. Yasuhiro Mineno from Yashin Ocean House, had formed a judging committee.
Daniel from Yashin Ocean House and Pzemyslaw from our very own Umu team had been selected to compete after passing the requirements of holding non-Japanese nationality and working as a resident chef in London-based Japanese restaurant, and both chefs disputed with Wagyu beef being the theme ingredient. The contestants handled the unaccustomed ingredient with their utmost effort, creating dishes with high degree of integrity. After a close race, Daniel won by an extremely slim margin, and gained a ticket to Japan.
To keep up with the topic “Japanese culinary manners to ingredients”, a demonstration consisted of introduction to Ikejime fish preserving techniques, moreover as an interpretation of Japanese concept “Mottainai” – a term expressing remorse towards waste – I performed cooking methods that can consume every part of fish from its head, bone and even to its guts.
One of the merchants in the audience, who deals fish from Portugal, showed great interest in the Ikejime technique, and subsequently I tried out a range of fish received from him on several occasions. The surprisingly extremely high quality fish, which in addition had extraordinary freshness compare to London market, were unlike those belong to cold-water within the proximity of Britain, but comprised of fish generally preferring warm water such as bonito, longtooth grouper and sea bream, and for its rarity, I gradually added to Umu’s menu.
Having to see keen curiosity of a group of Portugese fishermen towards Ikejime technique, and being enchanted with traditional thread fishing contributing to the local market by sustaining good quality fish, I visited Portugal at the end of the year.
After a short 3-days stay in Lisbon, I headed towards Algarve region in the south to meet Pedro, a middleman in the distribution line. Courtesy to his guide, I got to enjoy varieties of fresh natural ingredients such as local seafood, shellfish, Iberian black pork and an olive oil, some of which are rarely seen in UK.
Regrettably due to Christmas and New Year’s holiday season, fishing boats being out on the shore were almost none, and understandably fish could only be seen sparsely at the auction too.  Nonetheless with Pedro’s arrangement, we managed to locate a sea bass, on which I demonstrated ikejime to the fishermen. They watched with eagerness and growing interest in their eyes, and we part ways with a promise to teach the technique once again in the future, but next time would be on the boat with the freshest fish.  

著名なフードライターのMatthew Fort、セレブリティーシェフ、LedburyBrett Graham, Yashin ocean houseの峯野シェフが審査委員会として駆けつけてくれました。
コンペティションは和牛をテーマにロンドンの日本料理店で働く日本人国籍を持たない、将来を期待される料理人という条件で選抜され、Yashin ocean houseDanielと当店UMUPrzemyslawのあいだで争われました。二人とも使い慣れない和牛を一生懸命使いこなし、完成度の高い料理を作っていました。接戦の末、非常に僅差でDanielが勝ち、日本行の切符を手にしました。


Demonstration of Ikejime in Padstow and fishing with Chris 冬のCornwallでの活けジメデモンストレーションと漁師

On request from Cornwall Food & Drink, an organisation supporting local small-scale producers, I gathered with up-and-coming chefs from London and Cornwall’s local fishermen to demonstrate Ikejime (a type of fish preserving method) technique.
Padstow, a humble town the event took place in, is known for its fish and beautiful scenery, and despite having to pass by on few occasions previously, I hadn’t had a chance to actually visit and I was thrilled for this opportunity.
Got home from work at almost 2am on Saturday night, took a brief nap before heading out to pick up a car around 8am. By the time I arrived at Padstow, it was past 3.30pm and the partakers had already assembled and gone to see a lobster hatchery. I immediately began preparation at the site’s restaurant for the demonstration commencing at 4.00pm. After a commemorative photo shoot, I showcased the ikejime technique on live turbot I brought from London. 
During the debate session took place after the demonstration, the participants, who create distribution lines in cooperation with fishermen, earnestly discussed possible breakthroughs on how to bring fish back fresh from the shore, additionally and more importantly, how to deliver as fresh to London outlets. Many fish boats here lack fish-preserving tanks (unlike the ones in Japan) and expertise in transporting live fish is almost non-existence; obstacles keep on piling yet I trust that one by one they will be solved, more so when the fishermen will return to the shore frequently in spring. 
The plan to visit a butcher and organic farmhouse the next morning sadly had to be cancelled due to my imperfect condition. Rested up until noon before heading out to Dylan’s house in Helston. We had already scheduled to go on Dylan’s dad Chris’ boat the next day. The misfortune in timings had not permitted Chris and I to go fishing together yet, despite numberless times Dylan had taken me aboard onto several different boats. It was like one of my dearest dream coming true.
On arrival that night, I was welcomed by exceptional quality spider crabs, prepared and steamed by Dylan himself in his atelier. Once I started on the crabs, I could not refrain myself from chowing down, and while Dylan’s wife Mutsuko prepared salad and other accompaniments, I tucked in 2 whole crabs in no time. Spider crab has a distinctive flavour that varies from one to another, and those seen in restaurants’ fish tanks, often lined up by the Mediterranean coast, are far from edible. Being judged and selected by professional eyes like Dylan’s, the crabs were undoubtedly as rich or even richer in “Kanimiso” (crab innards) than those from Japan, and an extra robust wildness hinted in the meat.
I was up and about by 4.00am the next morning and ready to board Lady Hamilton. The bay where the boat is moored does not offer any port facilities, and all equipment first needs to be loaded onto small boat in order to be transferred onto Lady Hamilton, anchored on the shore. Considering the amount of fishing tools, ices, and also captured fish if on the way back, I salute the crew endure the routine every single day.
First, we pulled up the gill net that was set in shoal the night before; only crabs and a few unimpressive numbers of fish had been caught, along with tons of jellyfish that interfere with fishing. According to Chris, jellyfish was not to be found locally before, however similarly to the situation in the coast of the Japan Sea in recent years, upsurge occurred mysteriously. “Could it be related to global warming?”; such thought crossed my mind.
After re-setting the net back into the shoal, we headed to haul the net at a deeper point. The result was indifferently disappointing and only caught a countable number of pollack, haddock, etc. This spot, too, had jellyfish hindering.
Upon returning to the point in the shoal, we once again hauled the net that had been set for about 3 hours. Unexpected from the earlier result, the net was filled with a plenty of fish this time, and diversely coloured fish, such as pollack, haddock, cod, lemon sole, red mullet, streaked gurnard and john dory, have filled the captivity tank. Chris was simply delighted for the fortunate turn of event; that  significantly contradictory result could occur just after 3 hours of laying the net, from the exact point where the overnight set miserably failed previously. However what amazed me more was his nonetheless positive and firm attitude to re-set the net in that precise location, by believing the possible positive outcome based on tide movement as well as calculated time flame and his instinct coming from years of experience. I encounter similar events while I’m out fishing for my hobby, and I reckon having the ability to read and predict the vast nature can equal to the very primary joy of fishing, yet only experience can bring such skill.
Experience, knowledge, and luck that can change the game completely in one turn; for all of these dynamics, fishing can continue to entertain.
I send my heartfelt gratitude to the friendly crews of Chris’ and the family who always gives me warmest welcome.
 Cornwall の小生産者を支援している団体、Cornwall Food & Drinkからの依頼があり、ロンドンの若手有名シェフと地元の漁師を集めて活けジメのデモンストレーションをしてきました。
土曜日に仕事から帰宅したのが夜中の2時前、仮眠をとって8時に車をピックアップに行ったのち、Padstowに到着したのは既に3時半になっており、参加者は皆、既に集合してロブスターハッチェリーの見学に行った後でした。4時からデモンストレーションと聞いていたのでそのまま会場のレストランで用意にかかり、港での記念撮影の後、ロンドンから生かして持ってきたTurbot(石ヒラメ) を使って活けジメのデモンストレーションをしました。   
翌日は近郊にある有機農家と精肉業者を訪ねる予定でしたが、朝起きた時、調子が今一つで私は昼まで休み、HelstonDylanの家に行きました。翌日にはDylanのお父さん、 Chrisのボートに乗せてもらうことに決まっていました。今まで幾多のボートに乗せてもらっていてもいつもタイミングが悪く、Chrisとは今回が初めてで、やっと念願が叶いました。

翌日は朝4時に起き、Lady Hamilton に乗りました。Lady Hamiltonが停泊している入江に港は無く、すべての荷物をまずは小型ボートに乗せて沖に停泊させているボートに積みなおさな
その後、浅場の網を打ち直した後、深場(80m前後)に仕掛けた網を上げましたが、やはりそれほどの収穫はなく、Pollack(タラの仲間), haddock(スケトウダラ)などがぱらぱらと獲れただけでした。またも多くのクラゲに邪魔されます。
 元の浅場のポイントに戻り、3時間ほど前に入れた網を再び上げると今度はたくさんの魚が上がってきました。Pollack, Haddock, Cod(タラ), Lemon sole(カレイの仲間), Red mullet(ひめじ), Streaked gurnard(ホウボウ), John dory(マトウダイ)、大きなサバなど、色とりどりの魚でボックスはいっぱいになりました。一夜仕掛けていた網にほとんど入っていなかったのに同じポイントでもほんの3時間でいっぱいの魚が入ったことにChrisも本当に喜んでいましたが、その可能性を潮の流れや時間で読み取って的確に再度網を仕掛けた彼の経験と勘には驚かされました。そういったことは私の趣味の釣りでも良くあることで、自然を読み解くことそのものが釣りの楽しさであると同時に経験が全てです。経験、知識、そしてそれ以上の運に左右される、だから面白いのが釣り、漁です。


Eel release in Lake Llangorse Wales and Japan400 Plymouth festival ウェールズLlangorse湖でのウナギ稚魚の放流と日英友好400年記念フェスティバルでの“活けジメ”プレゼンテーション


Despite that the season of wild salmon and elver ended early this month, I decided to join a charity project to release eel into nature hosted and invited by Dai, a leader of fishermen supplying mentioned fish to Umu and also a proprietor of salmon farming company.

Elver caught in a net in early spring are taken care of in fish preserves until grown healthfully until appropriate size, which then are released to a lake in Wales, where eel is known to be extinct due to excessive fishing by the landowner. The project, which had begun few years back, already started showing positive results.
Regretfully Japanese eel has recently been registered as an endangered species due to excessive fishing of both full-grown and juvenile fish. Wild eel also continues to decrease in number around Europe, yet few volunteers such as Dai’s organization devote to actualize concrete plans to preserve the nature while sufficient number of larva still exist in the wild. Moreover, strict regulations are casted upon eel fishing including the elver fishing I once tagged along with Dai. The fishermen respect and follow the regulation, and such approach teaches me many things, setting me an example of a fisherman from an island nation. The contributions we can offer as one restaurant is limited, thence being able to be a part of the project was a privilege as well as a pleasure to us.
In addition, since our head chef Masato Nishihara, a friend of mine of 20 years’ standing who I lived under the same roof with during my time at Kitcho, had instated the current position almost 3 years ago, we did not get an opportunity to have same off days due to our respective roles. This time, upon many requests and invitations, we finally grasped a rare chance to have a short trip together. We laughed and enjoyed the whole trip, almost taking us back to 20 years ago when we used to visit potteries and farmers as young minds.
Left London at 1 a.m. after the dinner service on Thursday and arrived at Dai’s home around 4 a.m. while it was still dark around. Honey-coloured walls and straightly-lined roofs, the house had the charm unique to the specific part of country. After a brief nap in the beds that were readily made for us, we headed to Lake Llangorse in Wales by Dai’s car.
By the time we arrived at the lake, a team of staff from Dai’s company, Severn & Wye Smokery, was busy preparing set-ups for barbeque and eel larva for the main event. A group of children arrived in coaches after a short while, who then enjoyed hot dogs we’d given out before splitting onto a few boats and heading to the lake for releasing the elver. 
We prepared Chirashi Sushi with eel and salmon provided by the company while the kids were away for rough one hour and a half. Preparing sushi for great number of people simultaneously is never easy, especially with minimal equipment, yet I must say I relished contrasting environment under the clear, blue sky.
The kids observed with amused eyes and shot out many questions while Masato was handling the eel. The almost transparently pure smiles and energetic laughter, along with simple words of appreciations coming back from each one of the kids while we distributed freshly made sushi, we felt our hearts being soothed.
After the children had departed, we were invited onto the boats to go release remaining fish. My mood was lifted by watching the baby fish swam freely into the wild of lake one by one, leaving me somewhat uncannily refreshing feeling, as if it was I swimming into the nature.
The fishermen who helped at the event, specializing in traditional salmon fishing, showed an interest to Ikejime fish preserving technique I am extending around the UK, and as a consequent, I demonstrated the method on the leftover salmon. Conversely, their specialized miniature fishing boat had me smitten, and we promised to go fishing together next spring when the season begins.
Though the hard schedule from the morning the day before had inevitably exhausted me, I still manage to slip a nice dinner with game meat at a restaurant nearby Dai’s home before I was fell into deep sleep back in the room.
Got up at 6 a.m. next morning and made our way to Plymouth for the next event. On the way, we caught a glimpse of beautiful Autumn-coloured Exmoor National park embraced in the morning mist.
Arrived in Plymouth earlier than expected, we managed to tour around the festival. The festival named “Japan 400 Plymouth”, celebrating the 400 years history of Anglo-Japanese relations, is co-organized and supervised by the governments from the both ends and Plymouth University. Ceremonial arrival of a sailing ship into the Sutton Harbour where the first homecoming ship returned, a symposium held by recognized intellectuals at the University, stage performances of Japanese drum Taiko and Shamisen, and introductions to Japanese cuisine and Sake were on the itinerary.
While waiting for my turn for the presentation, I wandered through a port to conversed with local fishmongers and fishermen. The small-scaled, traditional fishing is also practiced by a few among them, and I believe many encounters would link to prospective supports in the future.
The presentations were presided by a renowned chef Peter Gorton who recently endeavoring to nurture young chefs. Following the introduction of Ikejime, demonstrated a preparation of sashimi, and concluded with plentiful inquiries during Q&A session.
To successfully return to the restaurant by the dinner service, we ran through the whole 820miles/1320km journey back to London. Masato surprisingly filled this entire trip with humorous stories, who was always fast asleep every time on the passenger sheet for the last 20 years, yet amused me again by dozing off right after we entered London off the highway where I most needed a navigation. I truly enjoyed the trip to every last bit.

木曜日の営業をこなし、夜中の1時にロンドンを発し、まだ辺りは真っ暗な4時頃、Dai氏の家に着きました。Cotswoldsのはずれにある、この地方独特のはちみつ色の壁とスレートの屋根、とても趣のある素敵な家でした。用意してくれていたベットに直行、数時間の仮眠ののち、彼の車で ウェールズのLake Llangorseに向かいました。
到着するとすでにDai氏の会社であるSevern & Wye smokery のスタッフがバーベキューや稚魚放流の準備を進めており、しばらくすると観光バスで児童たちが到着しました。彼らにホットドックを配った後、それぞれのボートに分乗し、湖にウナギを放流に行きました。
1時間半ほどで帰ってくるまでの間に、彼らの会社が提供してくれたウナギとサーモンを使ってちらし寿司を作りました。最小限の設備の中で 大人数分の寿司を作るのは大変でしたが、青空の下、いつもと違った雰囲気の中で楽しむことができました。



Plymouthには思いのほか早く到着し、フィスティバルの様子を見ることができました。“Japan 400 Plymouth”と名付けられたこのイベントは英日両国の政府とPlymouth大学の企画のもと、日英交流が始まった400年前、最初の帆船が帰港したPlymouthでの記念行事で帆船の入港式、有識者による大学でのシンポジウム、和太鼓や三味線などのステージ、日本料理やお酒の紹介などが行われました。
プレゼンテーションは現在若手の料理人育成に尽力している著名シェフ、Peter Gortonの司会のもと、活けジメの紹介ののち、刺身を作り、多くの聴衆からの質問コーナーで締めくくられました。 夜の営業に間に合うようにロンドンに戻らなければならず、合計820マイル、1320kmの道のりを走破しました。20年前からいつも、どこへ行くときも私の助手席で眠っていた理人は今回の旅ではずっと楽しい話を続けていたかと思いきや、最もナビゲーションの必要な高速道路を下りてからのロンドン市内に入ると同時に眠りに落ちるという芸当も見せてくれ、楽しい旅となりました。


Plymouthには思いのほか早く到着し、フィスティバルの様子を見ることができました。“Japan 400 Plymouth”と名付けられたこのイベントは英日両国の政府とPlymouth大学の企画のもと、日英交流が始まった400年前、最初の帆船が帰港したPlymouthでの記念行事で帆船の入港式、有識者による大学でのシンポジウム、和太鼓や三味線などのステージ、日本料理やお酒の紹介などが行われました。
プレゼンテーションは現在若手の料理人育成に尽力している著名シェフ、Peter Gortonの司会のもと、活けジメの紹介ののち、刺身を作り、多くの聴衆からの質問コーナーで締めくくられました。


Japanese Chef Elevates Washoku Worldwide

Japanese web magazine, Global manager feature an interview with me. My friend translate in English.


Global manager

Japanese Chef Elevates Washoku Worldwide 

A multi-talented chef in UK
spreads the spirit of Kaiseki and lifts Japanese cuisine to another dimension.

Yoshinori Ishii is the charismatic executive chef of UMU restaurant in London.
One wonders how he might convey Japanese cuisine to locals who have had no previous knowledge of the subject.  Yoshinori, who learnt Kaiseki culture in Kyoto and later worked overseas in Switzerland, the US, and England, explains the concept of this work, and his passion for Japanese cuisine. 

Profile of Yoshinori Ishii:

Executive chef at UMU, London
After graduating from the Abeno Cooking School in Osaka in 1990, he worked for the headquarters of Kyoto Kitcho, Arashiyama till he reached the position of sous-chef in 1998. While he studied English, he was engaged as a gardener at Seiho Takeuchi Museum and also started a catering service. In 1999 Yoshi was appointed as the embassy chef for the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. In 2002 he moved to New York on the same mission. In 2005, at the same time as the ambassador returned to Japan, he heard that his former horticulture mentor, Mr Masataka Higuchi, had been injured, and Yoshi decided to go back to Kyoto to support his farm.  In 2006 he returned to the US to oversee the special course menu at Morimoto restaurant.  He has received many awards including the Rising Star Chef.  In 2010, Yoshi moved to London as Executive chef at UMU restaurant.
Being a chef has made my dream come true 

The Japanese restaurant UMU is in the heart of London in Mayfair. Yoshinori Ishii works as the Executive Chef of the restaurant. 
He aimed to become a chef when he was a high school student and at that time dreamt of working abroad. After graduating from cooking school in Japan, he started his career at a long-established restaurant “Kyoto Kitcho” Arashiyama headquarters. There he was promoted to sous-chef, working there for ten years. He got a job as a chef at the Japanese ambassador’s residence and worked in Geneva and New York. He has held his current position at UMU since 2010.  
“I loved creating things myself through painting and sculpture when I was a student. My love of cooking came from the idea that I wanted to prepare fish with my own hands. At the same time, I had a dream of living abroad through using my own specific skills. When I graduated from school, I chose to work as a chef to enable me to follow my dream.” 
He made his dream come true by working as a chef at the ambassador’s residence and he enjoyed working overseas at last. However, looking back over those six years, he thinks that he was supported yet confined in his position, and something was missing. His real challenge started from that point. He wanted to make use of his experience. When he was trying to get a visa in the USA, Masaharu Morimoto, known as an Iron Chef, made him an offer. At chef Morimoto’s restaurant in New York, he was put in charge of the special course meals. Gradually he began to distinguish himself and was awarded Rising Star Chef and other accolades.
Three years later, he gained his US resident visa and he was looking for investors for his own project in order to move his career to the next stage, when he got the offer to become head chef of UMU restaurant in London, through his friend from Switzerland.
The art of handling fish passed onto the Celtic fishermen

After living there for seven years he left New York, and moved to a new world with lots of expectation. However, he was surprised by the difference between London and New York. The prime focus of dishes at UMU restaurant is Kaiseki. However, fresh fish, which is the most important element, could not be easily sourced.
At pop up restaurant at Frieze Master art show
“In New York, fish is sent by air cargo three times a week from the Tsukiji fish market in Japan. In addition they have local fish in New York, so I could work in a similar environment. However, London was completely different. They receive fish which wouldn’t be eaten even in staff meals in New York. I tried all kinds of middle suppliers, and I actually visited ports, but I couldn’t get fish with which I was happy. In fact, in England they don’t usually bring ice to fishing boats. In short, fish is taken from the boat as it is, and ice is added at the port. The fish is stored in the fridge, and brought to the fish market when the price has risen. The old stock goes first and fresher fish later. All middle suppliers work in the same way, so by the time we received the fish it was far from fresh.” 
Yoshinori looked for fishermen who customarily bring ice to the fishing boats. And finally he came to hear that there were Cornishmen of Celtic descent at the tip of the Cornish peninsula who treat fish carefully. Whenever he had time off, he drove for eight hours to build a relationship with them. 

“Although they treated fish very carefully, they have no knowledge of Japanese cuisine. They don’t have a transport system like we have in Japan, either. However, we can make an effort to bring the logistics closer to that of Japan.”

These problems decided him to teach Ikejime, the traditional Japanese method of fish preparation, and even showed the higher technique called Shinkei Jime. Yoshi was finally able to request that they perform Ikejime. He wanted to show them that all fish are treated with such care in Japan. Currently, Yoshi gets a call from the ship about the fish caught that day, and he chooses and orders the fish for the menu for the following day. The consistent communication between Yoshi and the fishermen made this possible. ‘Give 20, and get 10 returned’ is the philosophy Yoshi acquired living overseas.
“Personally, I do not talk a lot but, here, I learnt that verbal communication is key to everything.   Japan, we do not need to express ourselves that much, as people can read your mind and often silence is regarded as a virtue. Overseas, nothing can be understood unless expressed in words: to the staff, to the customers, and to the world.”

With head chef Masato Nishihara who was executive chef at Shojin cuisine restaurant NY. We worked together in Kitcho Kyoto long time. We pursue best created Kaiseki restaurant outside of Japan together.