Loves Food, Will Travel
Words by Takamasa Kikuchi Photographs by Julia Grassi Produced & Translated by Takamasa Kikuchi
Through a garden off the street in a hidden corner of Tokyo, you’ll find Eatrip, a restaurant run by food director Yuri Nomura, whose 10-year journey has involved a film, a magazine, a restaurant, catering, exhibitions, public relations and teaching. Her passion for conveying the joy of food is not limited by forms of expression. Here we find out all that she has learned about food and life.
What were the key moments that shaped who you are now?
My mother is a cookery teacher. I grew up in an environment surrounded by food. She loves to cook and invite people over for dinner. When I was a child, my home was often full of food, visitors and their laughter. I was especially impressed by how she welcomed visitors. Her welcoming manner has influenced who I am now.
How did you start your career in the food industry?
When I lived in London, I was studying cooking and became aware of Terence Conran. He was and is an influential designer and a pioneer of lifestyle design in Europe. He helped people realize that good design of space and everyday items relating to food such as tables, chairs, dishes, bowls, glasses and cutlery can enrich our lifestyle. Soon after coming back to Tokyo, I was offered a job as a chef at Idee Café, run by Japanese furniture company Idee. The restaurant was influenced by Conran’s concepts, and my experience in London contributed to its progress.
You have often worked with creative people from different fields. Where did the inspiration for this come from?
While working at Idee Café, I was involved in many catering events for creative companies. Clients often gave me free rein to arrange the whole event: decorating the space, choosing the tableware, the music and the food. I collaborated with designers and musicians on these events. For instance, I commissioned my favorite graphic designer to illustrate dishes according to an event’s theme. These experiences inspired me to explore food through artistic expression.
What motivated you to make the film, Eatrip?
At that time, LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) was a very fashionable term in Japan. Although the fact that many people were conscious about organic food and sustainable ecology was good, the movement became rather superficial—it became just part of food marketing strategies. This made me want to express my ideas about the pleasure of life and food. I thought that film was the best medium to make my ideas about food accessible to people.
How have your circumstances changed after completing the film?
There has been a tremendous reaction from the audience, which I did not expect at all. I immediately understood that I was in a position to influence people potentially in a good or bad way. I started feeling more responsible about my actions, which deeply burdened me. When I was thinking of how I wished to engage with food and what I believed in, Alice Waters from Chez Panisse struck me as someone I respect for her influence as a female chef and her contribution to American society. I decided to work there to learn more about her food philosophy.
How was your experience experience at Chez Panisse? Did you find what you now believe in?
I had a great time there and was working with very interesting chefs. We got along well and shared our philosophy of food. They hold an event called Open Restaurant in an art space, which is a food experiment in a cultural and social context. I invited them to Japan and we held Open Harvest together, which was very successful. A collective of Japanese chefs participated in it, and it totally changed their way of thinking about food. In fact, it was a life-changing experience for them. We then started Nomadic Kitchen together.
What does Nomadic Kitchen do?
Nomadic Kitchen visits a place and explores its regional nature and culture. We meet farmers and try to understand their production methods, and we also cook and hold gatherings with local people. Eatrip had an exhibition in Fukuoka, Kyushu Island, a few months ago. Nomadic Kitchen had a temporary kitchen in an art gallery and served food to guests on the last day of the exhibition. We visited local farmers and bought products directly from them. The Japanese are very nervous about food safety after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In order for them to enjoy food without any fear or doubt, it is very important that they get transparent information about where a product has come from, who the farmer is or how it is made. A good relationship between a farmer, a chef and the consumer is based on trust and respect. That is how we should appreciate food.
What is your favorite food?
I’m interested in preserved food. It is a type of food made all over the world, yet each country has a different way of preservation depending on the culture, climate and nature. I make my own Japanese preserved food by adapting foreign preservation methods. For example, I make anchovy preserves with Japanese fish. The way in which you can preserve local products inspires me.
What are you interested in doing next?
I’m learning the art of the Japanese tea ceremony. A guest is invited for a cup of tea with the host’s thoughtful cares. A host intentionally decorates the tearoom with flowers and paintings and specially selects cups and sweets for the tea ceremony that are influenced by the guest’s background or the season or climate. All the elements in the tea ceremony present a welcoming gesture. Being welcomed in such a way would enhance any guest’s experience.
Takamasa Kikuchi is a Japanese architect, product designer and writer living and working in London. He is currently working on bamboo crafts in collaboration with a Japanese craftsman.