June 20, 2022
By TAEKO TERAO
With the local food movement as popular as ever these days, forgotten regional ingredients are in the spotlight, and chefs are usually the ones responsible for pulling them onto the gastronomical stage. Chefs have been nurturing producers in this way since the end of the 20th century. Gradually, however, producers have also begun taking the lead in educating and nurturing chefs. Sasue Maeda Fish Shop is a prime example. Located in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, the fishmonger receives orders from famous chefs throughout Japan but also supplies fish to several local chefs. Daigo Sugiyama, proprietor of Chakaiseki Onjaku, is one of them.
The Sugiyama family’s history in the restaurant business goes back to Sugiyama’s grandfather, who established a soba shop in Yaizu. Later, his father trained at Wako, a restaurant in Tokyo’s Mejiro district known for incorporating the spirit and techniques of the tea ceremony into its chakaiseki cuisine, then went on to establish Chakaiseki Onjaku. Like his father, Sugiyama trained at Wako before returning to the family business eight years ago, where he became his father’s right-hand man in the kitchen.
“Even after I was back here working in Yaizu, I thought it was no match for Tokyo,” he said. He changed his mind, however, after observing the experience of the Yaizu tempura restaurant Naruse, which became one of the most heavily booked restaurants in Japan after joining forces with Naoki Maeda, owner of Sasue Maeda Fish Shop.
In fact, the Sugiyama family has been sourcing fish from Sasue Maeda Fish Shop for three generations. What is more, according to Maeda, the family has been buying from his shop longer than any other restaurant. As Sugiyama began frequenting the fishmonger, he gradually came to view Maeda as his teacher of all things fish. Maeda selects and supplies fish to the restaurant depending on how Sugiyama wants to prepare it: as sashimi, in soup or grilled, for example. Then, based on what Maeda tells him about the fish, Sugiyama decides how to cut it and how long to cook it to best bring out its flavor.
For ¥16,500 ($115), guests receive a multicourse meal that respects the chakaiseki tradition of hospitality without clinging to its formalities. At one meal, high-quality aji (horse mackerel) that had grown plump on sakura shrimp — itself a specialty of Shizuoka as well as an important marine resource — was served in a cucumber roll flavored with pickled plum. The itoyori tai (golden threadfin bream) was simmered in a light broth; Sugiyama said he intentionally used a smaller-than-usual amount of katsuobushi (bonito shavings) and seasonings to allow the flavor of the bream to shine. Tsuruna (New Zealand spinach) harvested wild from the Yaizu coast contributed a refreshing note. The jindo ika (Japanese squid) served with colinky squash owed its sweetness to being extremely fresh. The kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) had been unloaded at the dock just that afternoon, and its eyes really did glitter like gold, as its Japanese name suggests. Sugiyama served it grilled with its scales on, the skin crackling crisp. His restaurant’s outstanding reputation, he said, comes “thanks to the fishermen who risk their lives out on the ocean to catch fish for us, and all our forebears here in Shizuoka.” His own search for delicious flavors, he added modestly, is “still a work in progress” that will surely continue in the years to come.
6-14-12 Honmachi, Yaizu-shi, Shizuoka