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May 28, 2024

The Destination Restaurant of the year 2024

Elezo Esprit

A meat-based culinary community carries on Tokachi’s pioneer spirit

  • Destination Restaurants 2024

From among the 10 Destination Restaurants 2024 honorees, Elezo Esprit, which has created a new culture of meat-based cuisine, was chosen as the Destination Restaurant of the Year 2024.

About an hour’s drive from Tokachi-Obihiro Airport, Elezo Esprit is located in Toyokorocho in Hokkaido’s Nakagawa district. The area lies at the mouth of the Tokachi River, which supplies water to the region’s vast plains. The small hill on which the restaurant is situated faces the Pacific Ocean.

After the end of the Edo Period, when the Meiji government was moving ahead with Hokkaido’s development, this area was the starting point for the opening up of the Tokachi wilderness, so it is known as the “birthplace of the Tokachi region.” The area has cool summers and relatively light snowfall, and many residents work in dairy farming, agriculture and fishing.

Toyokorocho is known for its symbolic Harunire Tree (two Japanese elms that are fused together and look like a single tree), and lucky visitors may encounter the crystal-clear Tokachi River ice known as “jewelry ice” that is seen along the seashore from mid-January to mid-February. Encompassing one city (Obihiro, the airport’s location), 16 towns and two villages, the Tokachi region comprises 13% of Hokkaido’s land area and has a population of about 330,000. With a calorie-based food self-sufficiency ratio of over 1,100%, it is also an area rich in nature’s bounties.

Elezo Esprit’s owner-chef, Shota Sasaki, gained experience in French cuisine at a Hoshino Resort restaurant in Karuizawa and Bistro de la Cite in Tokyo. In 2004 he returned to Obihiro, where he helped out at his family’s cafe-restaurant. One day Sasaki had an opportunity to butcher, cook and eat the meat of a deer that had been shot by a hunter who frequented the restaurant. The experience made a deep impression on him. As a result, he came to the realization that “eating is the act of receiving life,” and resolved to engage with meat-based food culture in an essential way.

In 2005, Sasaki established the business Elezo for meat processing and distribution in Obihiro, his hometown. At first Elezo focused entirely on processing wild game obtained from hunters and selling the meat wholesale to Tokyo restaurants. Sasaki established strict rules for the handling of game animals, including specific hunting methods and the time needed to transport animals to the processing center after hunting. The meat produced by Elezo gained a following and the company’s achievements increased.

Looking toward his next goal, in 2009 Sasaki moved his activity base to Otsu in Toyokorocho, a depopulated area with fewer than 200 residents. There he built a comprehensive meat-processing laboratory on a 14-hectare site that includes mountains. He also started raising game fowl and ducks and pasturing pigs on the grounds of the facility. Through unique methods seen nowhere else in the world, such as hiring hunters as regular employees, Sasaki is creating a new meat-based culinary culture.

In 2022, Sasaki opened Elezo Esprit, an inn-style hotel made up of three accommodation buildings. The main dining room has six counter seats. The restaurant, which offers a course menu for ¥28,000 ($185), is open to hotel guests and nonguests alike, but overnight guests currently make up 90% of its customers. (One night’s stay with two meals starts at ¥55,000.) Dinner begins with Ezo venison consomme, which Sasaki calls “the soup of life.” Meats made on the premises, including assorted charcuterie and roasted pastured pork and venison fillets, are presented in simple and refined ways. Meat dishes of equivalent quality can be enjoyed at an Elezo Group restaurant located in Toranomon, Tokyo. But the cuisine experienced here, where pigs and fowl that live on the premises can be transformed into the dishes’ ingredients without a moment’s delay, is another matter completely. This is truly the taste of life itself. “We mustn’t waste a single drop of blood,” Sasaki said. The dishes at Elezo Esprit should be savored with these words in mind.


Elezo Esprit

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127, Otsu Toyokoro-cho Nakagawa-gun, Hokkaido

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