DESTINATION RESTAURANTS 2021
April 12, 2021
Surrounded by thick forest, Chimikepp Hotel lies deep in the mountains of eastern Hokkaido overlooking the unspoiled waters of Lake Chimikeppu. Some visitors make their way there for the winter snowscapes, the summer outdoor activities or just to breathe good clean air; others because they know they will dine remarkably well.
While the accommodations look typical of many a back-country inn, the hotel dining room serves cuisine that sets it apart. For this, all plaudits are due to chef Masaki Watanabe.
A native of Shizuoka, he only arrived in Hokkaido by happenstance. He had trained and worked in France and then landed jobs in California, first at the three-Michelin-starred French Laundry and then at Benu in San Francisco (now also with three stars, but at the time a hot newcomer). While waiting to renew his U.S. visa in 2012, he came up to Chimikepp to help out and was bowled over by the setting.
Before long he had taken over the hotel kitchen and revamped the menu. Out went the tired if ubiquitous Continental cuisine. In came seasonal local produce. He sources fish, scallops, urchins and shrimp from the nearby Sea of Okhotsk. He buys beef and pork from local small-scale farmers. And he only has to step outside the hotel to find cep mushrooms growing wild in summer.
And then there are fowl and other game meats. Watanabe prepares a great pate en croute stuffed with bear, pork and chicken meat. He also forages for edible plants in the surrounding forest. All these end up on his menu. No surprise to know he now has a Michelin star of his own.
204 Numasawa, Tsubetsu-cho, Abashiri-gun, Hokkaido 092-0358, Japan