Masahiro Kasahara, proprietor of Japanese cuisine restaurant Sanpi-Ryoron in Tokyo's Ebisu district, had an initial goal of turning just 10 percent of his customers into die-hard fans.
The popularity of his dishes has soared. And the 45-year-old chef continues to communicate the joy of cooking through television, radio and magazines.
He also teaches children about food and cooking and takes part in a group that promotes Japanese-style school meals. Group members advise teachers responsible for nutrition to incorporate more Japanese cuisine in school lunches.
Kasahara does so in the spirit of conveying the long tradition of food culture and, above all, to spread the good taste of Japanese cuisine.
Kasahara has written more than 60 cookbooks, including the recently published "Tori Dai-jiten" (Grand encyclopedia of chicken) from Kadokawa Corp.
With busy people in mind, he chooses readily available ingredients and lists simple procedures.
His popular recipes are far-reaching, covering the basics of Japanese-style food, to light food that goes well with beer, as well as sweets.
Born in Tokyo in 1972, Kasahara graduated from high school and then trained for nine years at Shogatsuya Kitcho, a restaurant in the capital’s Shinjuku district that offered "kaiseki," or traditional multicourse Japanese meals.
He then took over his parents’ yakitori restaurant, and in 2004, opened Sanpi-Ryoron in Ebisu.
The name of his restaurant means "pros and cons."
Kasahara said he wanted Sanpi-Ryoron to be a place that "has one avid fan out of 10, even though the other nine are critical."
The name may conjure an "unapproachable" image, but the place is not edgy at all.
He said there were few places that served Japanese cuisine at a moderate price around the time he opened his restaurant.
Young people on dates mostly dined at Italian or French restaurants. Kasahara wanted his restaurant to serve quality Japanese cuisine but at a price under 10,000 yen ($88.5) per person, including drinks. In other words, he wanted a place where twentysomethings could go on dates.
Kasahara acquired the proper knowledge and skills at a top-class restaurant, but he still manages to keep the prices down for his mouth-watering dishes.
The restaurant only serves the chef’s choice courses, which helps to minimize wasted ingredients.
Sanpi-Ryoron will close on Dec. 26 for renovations and reopen in late March.
Another restaurant, Sanpi-Ryoron Menzu-kan, is located about 1.5 km north of the main restaurant. He also has a restaurant in Chikusa Ward in Nagoya.
This week, Kasahara, whose forte includes chicken dishes, introduces a chicken-ball hot pot. A key to making the chicken balls is using a generous amount of onion that is grated and mixed with chicken. This will add sweetness and lighten the texture. At his restaurant, the chicken balls are sometimes used in clear soup.
Now that it is getting colder, why not sit around a pot filled with piping-hot chicken balls with family and friends.
500 grams ground chicken
Ingredient A (1 egg, 1 Tbsp each of soy sauce, sugar, sweet mirin sake and cornstarch, 1 tsp salt)
1/6 of Chinese cabbage
1 green onion (naganegi)
1 pack enokidake mushroom
1/3 bundle mizuna leaves
Bit of yuzu zest and salt
Ingredient B (1,500 cc water, 4 Tbsp each of light-colored soy sauce and sweet mirin sake, 5 grams dried kombu kelp)
Cut vegetables into appropriate size. Grate onion, wrap in gauze and firmly squeeze out water.
Place onion and ground chicken in bowl, add Ingredient A and mix thoroughly with hand.
Heat Ingredient B in pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat, drop balls of chicken mixture using spoon. When balls rise to surface, remove from pot. Add vegetables to pot and heat until cooked.
Add salt to the soup to taste, return chicken balls and cook briefly. Sprinkle with yuzu zest.
* * *
From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column