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Travel 2 minutes 05 November 2019

Chefs’ Travel Black Book: Masa Takayama’s Food Guide To Kanazawa

Famed chef Masa Takayama shares his favourite gems from this coastal sake and seafood haven in Japan.

Japan

Chef Masayoshi Takayama, who is the owner of the three-MICHELIN-starred restaurant of the same name in New York City, is one of America’s most celebrated Japanese chefs—alongside household names like Masaharu Morimoto and Nobu Matsuhisa.

Raised in Nasu, a small town north of Tokyo, Takayama, who is affectionately known as Masa, spent his youth hauling fish into the window display case of his family’s seafood shop and delivering his father’s sashimi via bicycle. By high school, his interest in sushi and restaurants had led to dishwashing and later sushi making at Tokyo’s renowned Ginza Sushi-ko, known for its 130-year heritage and strict legacy of training young talents.

In 1980, Takayama moved to Los Angeles and opened Saba-ya (renamed to Ginza Sushi-ko in 1987) during a time when “sushi” meant little more to Hollywood’s glitterati than a drab California roll coming out of a restaurant at the edge of a strip mall. As a Japanese ambassador of haute sushi cuisine, Takayama has helped spark L.A.’s decades-long sushi craze, expertly demonstrating kaiseki—a notion of natural balance in taste, texture, appearance and colour—that lives on in haute sushi today.

Today, Takayama is the proud owner of a robust Masa empire: including, but not limited to his aforementioned three-Michelin-starred omakase restaurant and adjacent Bar Masa, Kappo Masa (a collaboration with gallery owner Larry Gagosian) on the Upper East Side, and the late-night Japanese robatayaki and burger destination Tetsu in TriBeCa. Most surprisingly, Takayama is also the creative owner of a hand-crafted ceramic design company, Masa Designs, whose dishware is featured in his many restaurants.

Chef Masa's favorite 'ryokans' are in the Kaga Onsen, a revered collection of four hot spring towns south of Kanazawa, not far from Hakusan. (Photo courtesy of Japan Quest Journeys.)
Chef Masa's favorite 'ryokans' are in the Kaga Onsen, a revered collection of four hot spring towns south of Kanazawa, not far from Hakusan. (Photo courtesy of Japan Quest Journeys.)
Why Kanazawa is one of your favourite cities in Japan?
Visiting Kanazawa is an incredible experience. It’s only about an hour and a half from Tokyo and Kyoto. The shinkansen (high speed train) is also set to open next year, so it should only be about 40 minutes from Kyoto. Mount Tate (or Tateyama) is one of Japan’s three holiest mountains, along with Hakusan and Fuji, and Kanazawa produces some of the best sake in the world, as it uses water directly from the mountain. The sake is very clear and fresh.

What are your favourite dining spots in Kanazawa?
One of them is Kawaguchi, a homely seafood restaurant that serves Kappo-style food. Ask the locals for the exact location. I would recommend the whole grilled snow crab, grilled Akamutsu aka Japanese ruby snapper and blowfish in the winter, rock oysters, Hamo fish and eel (which is seasonal during summertime).

What are your favourite ryokans to stay in Kanazawa?
My favourite ryokans are in Kaga Onsen, a revered collection of four hot spring towns south of Kanazawa, which is not far from Hakusan. Legend has it that monks visited the arresting mountain over 1,300 years ago and discovered the Kaga Onsen hot springs.
Most personal to chef Masa is the region’s affiliation to the well-known Japanese artist Kitaoji Rosanjin, who lived and worked in Kanazawa in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of Toki Tokyo.)
Most personal to chef Masa is the region’s affiliation to the well-known Japanese artist Kitaoji Rosanjin, who lived and worked in Kanazawa in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of Toki Tokyo.)
How has Kanazawa inspired your cooking?
Kanazawa is affiliated with Japanese artist Kitaoji Rosanjin, who lived and worked there in the early 1900s. He was not only a ceramicist, calligrapher, painter and lacquer artist, but also a restaurateur. He is best known for developing a theory on the aesthetic relationship between food and ceramic design. You can say I got great inspiration from his work for my Masa Designs pieces and my general philosophy towards the way I cook.

What are some of your other favourite things to do in Kanazawa?
I love to visit my artist friends who live there and see them work on new ceramic pieces. There are also a lot of hiking trails around Tateyama, especially during the spring and summer months. Whenever I travel to Kanazawa, I also love to go river and ocean fishing.

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