A couple of years ago I wrote about a trip I took to Galicia at the invitation of Yuko Kuwamura, proprietress of Kodaiji Wakuden and doyenne of traditional fine dining in Kyoto. (That post is a preface to this one and worth a read for background.) Soon after that I was offered the opportunity to create a monthly series of short essays and images similar in style and voice to what I do here but specific to the world of Wakuden. And so I embarked on a phenomenal year of traveling around Japan interviewing and photographing some of the artisan producers whose products become part of the dining experience there.
One would naturally expect that an establishment of such caliber would work with the best and the brightest and that is certainly true. But what I came to understand and admire immensely through spending time with more than a dozen people supremely accomplished in their respective fields, is that this constellation of people whose skills and efforts contribute to the Wakuden experience are not only some of the most passionate, conscientious, and innovative people I’ve ever met, they are universally sincere, hard working, and unassuming.
Over the same months that I was out interviewing, photographing and writing, a team of bright minds was envisioning and designing a new website for Wakuden which has just launched and with it the series I’ve produced for them begins. There you can find the first essay which traces the origin of binchotan charcoal, the fuel of Wakuden’s signature winter meal. Guests gather around the irori, a sunken hearth in a tatami room that faces the garden, and watch as a chef grills Taiza crab, a winter specialty, over glowing rods of charcoal. I ate this meal many years ago, not long after landing in Japan but long before I started photographing and writing about the food here. For a decade that night held a mystical, almost dream like place in my memory until a serendipitous string of events brought me to that same room for the meeting that would lead me into this project.
It has been a remarkable experience to orbit in such close proximity to a place with so much history and people with so much integrity. To taste the food, study the presentation, read the rooms, and feel the cadence of service at Kodaiji Wakuden is to see deeply into some of the core philosophies and expressions of Japanese culture and craft that have long captivated my heart and attention. For those of you interested in taking a deep dive into these things, I hope you’ll join me over the next year on the new Wakuden website and read these monthly stories in a series we’re calling Thread by Thread.