Ichiro Abe, the proprietor of Takumi Kappo, gains inspiration for his menus from the fresh fish and vegetables he sees at the market every morning and even from the dishes he hopes to use.
They include a black bowl produced at the Engoji Kiln in Tottori Prefecture that is simple yet profound, as well as a Yamane Kiln round plate that is a soft opaque white.
Abe, 62, is drawn to dishes and bowls that are wholesome, not eccentric and not excessively decorated. He feels he can converse with such dishes that emit "warmth."
The chef sometimes comes up with cooking ideas for his regional cuisine restaurant in Tottori while gazing at the wares. At times, he visits the kilns to choose the dishes or place orders for new shapes.
The number of young people interested in the "mingei" (folk craft) movement as well as foreign visitors to Tottori is increasing.
Abe tries to introduce the beautiful handicrafts of the Sanin region to visitors from outside the prefecture, and the crafts from around Japan to the local people.
This week, he chose a plate from the Nakai Kiln in Inshu in the eastern part of Tottori Prefecture for simmered red flounder.
When the kiln opened soon after the end of World War II, Shoya Yoshida, founder of Takumi Kappo and pathfinder of the folk craft movement in Tottori, began visiting the kiln to offer guidance in the production of the wares.
Plates of deep emerald green and black can bring out the white color of flounder.
Red flounders are caught in trawling nets and are in season in winter. The flesh is tender and sweet.
"Tofu-chikuwa" that is simmered with the fish is a local product made by steaming a mixture of tofu and "surimi."
"Hamayaki" (grilled at the beach) mackerel, the other dish featured this week, is cooked on a skewer right after being caught.
This method was used before preservation and distribution techniques were established to keep the fish longer.
Due to the convenience of eating directly from the skewer, it is still sold in some parts along the Sea of Japan.
All of the ingredients in both dishes absorb the sweet sauce and are quite appetizing.
From the ocean, come the "iwagaki" oyster, "shiroika" squid and "matsubagani" crab, while the land provides "rakkyo" (Chinese scallions), "nagaimo" yam, Nijusseiki pear and Hanagosho persimmon.
"This is a quiet area but it is rich in special ingredients of the seasons," Abe says.
As is the case for folk craft wares, Abe makes sure not to work too much on the dishes but to highlight the in-season flavors. His background of having cooked Western-style dishes and Chinese cuisine also gives him a flexible mind-set.
Although Abe deals with things that disappear once they enter the mouth, he gives his best for the moment.
For red flounder dish (serves two):
2 red flounders (aka-karei)
Seasoning A (50 cc each of sake, sweet mirin sake, soy sauce, 50 grams sugar, 500 cc dried kombu kelp stock)
Ginger (half the size of thumb)
Tofu-chikuwa (tofu and mushrooms may be used instead)
White part of green onion
For mackerel dish (serves four):
1 hamayaki mackerel (saba)
Ginger (half the size of thumb)
100 cc sake
50 cc soy sauce
30 grams sugar
Some green onion
To make flounder dish, carefully remove guts and scales, immerse briefly in boiling water. Finely slice ginger; cut tofu-chikuwa and green onion into bite-size pieces.
Pour Seasoning A in pot and bring to a boil. Add all ingredients. Start with high heat, then lower to medium heat once the sauce starts to boil again and cook for about 5 minutes.
To make mackerel dish, carefully loosen meat from bones. Finely slice onion. Cut ginger into fine strips. Cut green onion into 5-cm pieces.
Place ingredients except for green onion in pot, cook for about 5 minutes. Add green onion and cook. Serve in bowl.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column