AKORDU, which means "memory" in Basque, is a restaurant in the ancient city of Nara, the first capital of Japan.
The restaurant, which categorizes itself as "modern Spanish cuisine," is located at the foot of Mount Wakakusa, which was once part of the Todaiji Temple.
Todaiji Temple, built in the 8th century, is an important and large temple that has had a major impact not only on the history of Buddhism, but also on Japanese history and culture. Its Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall), which is also part of the World Heritage Site, is the largest wooden structure in the world.
The location of the restaurant, standing in a corner of the former site and overlooking the lush greenery of Mount Wakakusa, alone makes it a Michelin 2-star restaurant with a unique character.
Of course, the individuality of Hiroshi Kawashima is not confined to this location.
Having gained ample experience in French cuisine at leading hotels in Japan and elsewhere, he has begun to establish himself as a chef, but he faced a major obstacle: What kind of cuisine should he offer to my customers? It did not take him long to write a letter to Andoni Luis Aduriz.
The Basque experience was not only an opportunity to learn about creative Basque and Spanish cuisine, but also to fundamentally rethink his own cooking. The French cuisine I had learned in Japan up to that point had been a method of cooking according to a plan using selected top-quality ingredients, partly because he had spent a lot of time in hotels. In the Basque Country, when he went to town to buy some seasonings, all the stores were closed for lunch. Then, just as the back door of the kitchen opens, a hunter offers him mushrooms fresh from the mountains to buy. Cooking is something that begins with one's eyes and ears open to the world. He says that gaining this kind of understanding was the biggest benefit of his stay in the Basque Country.
Chef Kawashima then chose Nara, his wife's hometown, to start his own path.
His cuisine has many Mugaritz-esque presentations and cooking methods. But with the exception of seafood (Nara Prefecture has no sea), 90% of the food is made with Nara ingredients, and it is a cuisine that looks and listens to the region. Even my Spanish friends say, 'You can't really call it Spanish food anymore,'" says Kawashima.
There are many producers in Nara, each with their own specialties. And because Nara is a small region, there are many producers who are particular about their products. That's why the products produced from their refined and creative agricultural methods are unique and of high quality," says Kawashima, who has extensive experience in Tokyo and Kyoto.
One producer, who has worked for a bank for 40 years and is engaged in enhancing the value of his hometown, is working to revitalize a citrus variety indigenous to Japan that is closely associated with Nara. The fragrant fruit, known as Yamato tachibana (Yamato is also the ancient name for the Nara region), was an endangered species when he retired from the bank. He has cultivated it in the wild, and has been promoting it to chefs and others in the region, paving the way for its stable production. Citrus fruits have been actively used in Japanese cuisine, with yuzu at the top of the list, but since the turn of the century they have also come to be used widely in French cuisine. In the same vein, kabosu (kabosu is a type of citrus fruit) and sudachi are also used in many recipes, but the rich aroma, uniqueness, and bitterness of yamato tachibana, which is still unknown overseas, gives it a strong character.
Kawashima's idea of a food experience is rooted in the memories of each individual. Even if there are no significant ingredients used, and even if the food is not very tasty in the extreme, if it is a happy experience, then the food is wonderful.
Based on such "what is a dining experience," we offer dishes that more than satisfy the customers who come to eat them.
On top of that, these are also the dishes that were selected as "Chef of the Year 2018" by Gault et Millau, a Michelin 2-star restaurant.
The sight of him happily picking herbs in the garden with Mt. Wakakusa in the background is a scene that overlaps with the herb garden at Mugaritz, and an act that takes place daily at the foot of Todaiji Temple, which has nurtured 1,200 years of history.
Please watch the video to see a glimpse of Chef Kawashima's "Nara Cuisine," which is heavily inspired by the Basque Country in Spain.