Cultivated Days | Wakuden in Galicia
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Wakuden in Galicia

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Our taxi navigated the narrow streets of old Kyoto and deposited us on stone steps outside one of the city’s most revered and at the time, most inaccessible restaurants. A decade ago Kodaiji Wakuden required a personal introduction to secure a reservation. We were there to taste the ultimate Wakuden course, winter Taiza crab grilled over binchotan charcoal.

We sat for a few magical hours atop tatami mats in a private dining room enjoying the best foods the country had to offer, prepared by the most accomplished chefs. I was fresh to Japan, had no knowledge of the food culture or language and nary a concept of what my future here would look like. But by the kindness of new family and friends, I was gifted the meal of a lifetime.

Fast-forward to early summer 2016. With a passion for communicating Japan’s food culture in English, a grasp of the language, and a second helping of great good fortune, I found myself again in that same room sitting across from Wakuden’s fifth generation owner Yuko Kuwamura to talk about working together.

As sole heir Kuwamura is fiercely working to protect the Wakuden legacy in the face of very specific contemporary challenges. Today’s environmental conditions, the politics of farms and fisheries and the effects they bear on ingredients are of utmost concern to many a great restaurateur across the globe and Kuwamura is no exception. Wakuden sources Japan’s finest ingredients and the highly skilled chefs there prepare them with a practiced light touch to preserve each perfect flavor. As she navigates the challenges in Japan that affect the ingredients that her restaurant relies on, Kuwamura also looks for answers and inspiration abroad.

In August, British architect David Chipperfield hosted Kuwamura and a team of her chefs in the small Galician town of Corrubedo. The goal of the week was to investigate the local cuisine alongside the local practices and policies of agriculture and aquaculture, and to bring Japanese culinary philosophies and techniques to a new set of ingredients. Over the course of a week we toured markets, observed razor clam and Goose barnacle harvests, shellfish cultivation, and a Padron pepper farm. We dined at local restaurants and the Wakuden chefs cooked several meals, interpreting the local ingredients and flavors through a Japanese lens.

Every passing decade brings social, technological, and cultural shifts. In Japan where history is counted in centuries and businesses are passed from generation to generation, each successor must simultaneously hold tight to core values while considering social evolution and clientele with changing expectations. Respecting history and protecting tradition requires flexibility and a willingness to adapt. At the helm of one of Japan’s greatest restaurants, Kuwamura is in constant pursuit of how to do just that. WakudenGalicia-4WakudenGalicia-5WakudenGaliciaDiptych1WakudenGalicia-8WakudenGaliciaDiptych3WakudenGalicia-18WakudenGaliciaDiptych2ChipperfieldCorrubedoArchitecture-18WakudenGaliciaDiptych4WakudenGalicia-44WakudenGaliciaDiptych6WakudenGalicia-27WakudenGalicia-28WakudenGalicia-29wakudengaliciadiptych13WakudenGalicia-32WakudenGaliciaDiptych9WakudenGalicia-35WakudenGaliciaDiptych5WakudenGalicia-43WakudenGaliciaDiptych8WakudenGalicia-52WakudenGaliciaDiptych10WakudenGalicia-53WakudenGaliciaDiptych12WakudenGalicia-1WakudenGaliciaDiptych11WakudenGalicia-45WakudenGalicia-54WakudenGalicia-55WakudenGalicia-56

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9 Comments
  • Laura
    Posted at 13:51h, 12 October

    What an incredible opportunity! And how lucky they are to have such a beautiful record of this occasion.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 23:33h, 13 October

      Laura, It was the assignment of a lifetime and looks to be turning into an ongoing working relationship. Proof that it pays off to follow your dreams!

  • Alana VanDerwerker
    Posted at 15:20h, 13 October

    What good fortune (on a day home sick and healing with teas and naps) to find this fabulous melding of cuisine, connoisseurship, cultural heritage, and future exchange! I feel refreshed. Thank you for these photographs of eloquent spirit.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 23:32h, 13 October

      Alana, Glad this could bring you some joy. Be well and get well soon!

  • Mora
    Posted at 21:44h, 14 October

    For the first time in a long time, I found myself a bit envious of those younger than I am. When I graduated from college many years ago, I gave serious consideration to enrolling in the S.F. Culinary Academy. Though I have no regrets, I do wonder what my life would be like were I graduating now and considering a culinary path. (I really think just getting out there and cooking is the best school.) My inherited skills in the kitchen, thanks to my Belgian mother, gave me great satisfaction. But ohhh…to be young today and in love with cooking and traveling. Thank you for the gorgeous photos and well-written copy! It’s always a pleasure to take a break from work and read your posts.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 18:28h, 15 October

      Mora, I’m with you! I love communicating these stories and that is where my strength lies, but for each and every one I hover at these fine folk’s shoulder wanting to jump in and participate – not just observe!

  • Steve
    Posted at 16:56h, 17 October

    Such luscious photos! What are the little pinch pots in the basket made of?

  • Katsu Kikuchi
    Posted at 03:28h, 04 November

    So glad to have been able to share the unforgetable time with you!!
    Love your beautiful pictures and sofisticated writing!!

    • Prairie
      Posted at 23:25h, 04 November

      Katsuさん, こちらこそ! It was honestly one of the most interesting and exhilarating weeks of my life. So glad we could share it. See you soon back in Japan~