Chef Haroji Ukai is the seventh-generation head of Kinmata, a traditional kaiseki restaurant housed in a cultural heritage listed building located very near to the Nishiki food market. In recognition of his commitment to styles of cuisine that feature locally grown produce, as well as his extensive knowledge, Chef Ukai has been designated by the prefectural authorities as Master of Kyoyasai (traditional Kyoto vegetables). Here is Chef Ukai’s introduction from Kinmata’s website:
From the outset, the staff in the kitchen at Kinmata are all very hard-working and committed. Even though this is a business, there is an awareness that it’s a family business, where everyone understands that each person’s individual contribution is what creates Kinmata. Among the employees there is a spirit of competition as well as cooperation, but in the end it’s offering the customer a satisfying experience that’s important and I think this awareness is what unites us.
My son, who will become the eighth-generation head of Kinmata, has just returned from an eight-year absence, having spent four years in New York and four years in Tokyo. Seeing Kyoto from the outside has given him a deeper sense of just how special Kyoto is and he is already working on how to provide even better service to our customers in overt as well as more subtle ways. So I’m not worried about the future of Kinmata, which looks set to continue to flourish.
About our cuisine:
We really are indebted to our customers, who say things like “Well, I really felt I could taste the season with this meal”, which is just what a chef wants to hear. We don’t just prepare the same menu day after day – we depend on the advice of the people in the grower’s market who tell us what ingredients are at their seasonal best on a particular day. Based on our past experiences and knowledge, we also consider the growing region and conditions. This is certainly the best way to prepare a meal.
But it’s not about the personal satisfaction of the chef, and anyway, you’re limited in just how much you can prepare on the day. It’s more than that. When I was young, I was taken out one cold winter’s night to a small kappo restaurant where we sat around the counter with the chef in front of us, and I was really moved by the experience, such that I’ve never forgotten it. The chef was in his 60s and, although he didn’t know me, he was really happy to chat with me and asked me what I’d like to eat. Straight away he went to the fridge and took out some beautiful pink tilefish, which he proceeded to steam and then grill. It was so good, and I wondered how come he had this kind of delicious food just on hand. Next, he brought out some fugu milt (fugu no shirako) and, without processing it in any way, he just slid it onto a skewer and charcoal grilled it to a lovely golden brown, then sliced off a bit and served it straight away. It was soo~ good!
To this day, I haven’t forgotten how good that tasted! Actually, it was fugu milt pickled in miso (fugu no shirako misozuke). I also had locally grown Kyoto turnips, known as shōgoinkabu, served with a miso sauce (dengaku) that had the faint fragrance of yuzu and was served piping hot. Then there was a simple red miso soup and white rice. I remember I felt so satisfied that desert wasn’t necessary. And that’s just the kind of cuisine I now offer here at Kinmata, so please come and try it for yourself.