Although he was a fast runner, Ichiro Abe failed in his quest to make the Olympic track and field team, and he later ran into business-related debt problems.
But now, for 20 years, he has run Takumi Kappo, a regional-cuisine restaurant that was opened as part of the "mingei" (folk craft) movement in Tottori.
Abe, 62, who is also the head chef, was surrounded by people in food-related businesses while growing up.
His grandfather had created Ganso Kani Zushi (Original crab sushi), Tottori’s popular "ekiben," or boxed meals sold on trains and at railway stations.
His parents ran a confectionery wholesale business, and Abe used to cook dinner on their behalf while he was an elementary school student.
"Cooking is an 'encounter with the unknown,’" he says. "It is exciting to prepare while thinking about the result."
Although he was interested in food, Abe headed to Tokyo with dreams of running in the Olympics. But his records did not improve, and he eventually dropped out of college.
After studying at a culinary school, he found work at Zakuro, a shabu-shabu restaurant in Tokyo’s Akasaka district, which happened to have deep ties with the mingei movement.
While learning customer service and cooking for about five years there, Abe became acquainted with the spirit of mingei that sees beauty in miscellaneous daily utensils.
He then returned to his hometown and opened a restaurant. Spurred by the buoyant economy, he opened another restaurant, a ramen noodle shop and other businesses. But in time, he found himself hundreds of millions of yen in debt.
When he began thinking of going back to his original intent of enjoying cooking, he was approached by the people from his current restaurant.
For Abe, the founder of the restaurant, Shoya Yoshida, was simply "a neighborhood doctor of ears and nose."
Abe did not know until later that Yoshida, besides working as a doctor, visited potters and wood workers to guide them in the production and spreading of their crafts.
Although Yoshida had died by this point, Abe decided to carry on the spirit of the trailblazer.
Ten years ago, Abe created a recipe for miso-flavored curry with Tottori wagyu beef. In fact, curry is linked to the mingei movement in a way.
Bernard Leach, a British ceramic artist who appreciated the ideas of philosopher and mingei-movement advocate Muneyoshi Yanagi, loved to cook and held a curry workshop in Tottori in 1935.
While eating the curry, Leach is said to have suggested, "It will taste good if miso was added." This anecdote inspired Abe to come up with the recipe.
Although the extent of Leach’s influence is unknown, the residents of Tottori city buy the largest amount of curry roux in Japan, according to a household expenditure survey.
When simmered for quite a while, a generous amount of miso adds fullness to the curry. It is a new specialty of Tottori, generated from cultural exchanges between East and West.
300 grams chunk of beef flank (gyu-baraniku)
Some ginger (half the size of thumb)
1 clove garlic
50 grams miso
3 Tbsp curry powder
Finely slice onion, finely chop ginger and garlic. Cut beef into bite-size pieces.
Cook beef in frying pan to trap flavor. When surface has browned, add onion, garlic, ginger and stir-fry.
When ingredients are cooked, move to pot and add 1 liter water and bring to a boil. Add miso, curry powder and simmer for about 2 hours until meat turns sufficiently tender.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column