"Become friends with fire" was the key piece of advice Naohisa Inoue was given soon after he entered the kitchen of a restaurant run by Shiseido Parlour Co.
The experienced staffers advised the young cook on the importance of winning the fire over and interacting with it as if they were "kindred spirits."
Inoue, now 50 and the 13th grand chef responsible for the menus of all Shiseido Parlour restaurants and cafes, took the advice to heart.
At Shiseido Parlour's main restaurant, as many as eight pots containing soups and sauces are heating on the stove at the same time. The strength of the fire is changed depending on what was being cooked.
The main restaurant is located on the fourth and fifth floors of a brick-colored building facing a main street in Tokyo's Ginza district.
Its inception goes back to 1872, when Arinobu Fukuhara established the Apothecary Shiseido at the same location. Thirty years later, the pharmacy began making and selling soda and ice cream, leading the way to the establishment of a restaurant.
It was a plate of pilaf that Inoue had eaten at a Shiseido Parlour outlet when he was in high school that prompted him to work for Shiseido Parlour. The sauce used to flavor the dish had seeped into each grain of rice and left an indelible impression.
With the blessing of his father, a craftsman in the construction business who encouraged him to "learn a trade," Inoue joined Shiseido Parlour in 1986 after graduating from a vocational school for cooks.
When Inoue was getting acquainted with fire, his tasks included peeling shrimp and steaming rice. He had to stand all day. He was so tired at first that when he took the train home and there were no seats available, he slumped to the floor.
The work was strenuous, but a major reward was the staff meals cooked by the senior cooks. As he saw them whip up delicious dishes efficiently, Inoue decided he one day wanted to be like them.
He worked at the kitchen of Shiseido Parlour outlets in Tokyo and Yokohama and as an area manager of the company's restaurant business department before assuming the role of chief chef at the main restaurant in Ginza.
This week Inoue introduces a beef stew that is just right for the winter season. The demiglace sauce that requires four days to simmer holds the key to the flavor. Japanese black beef is added and cooked for another day.
The beef is picked up from the pot halfway, and the fat is sliced off. Fat and foam that rise on the surface are also removed. The beef stew that takes five days to make is rich yet not clingy, and the beef gently falls apart in your mouth.
The recipe has been arranged by Inoue for home cooking. Store-bought demiglace sauce is used to reduce the cooking time.
He suggests "immersing the beef in wine and herbs overnight to tenderize it." This extra step will bring the dish closer to a professional taste.
(Serves four to six)
800 grams block of beef rib ("gyu-baraniku")
Ingredient A (300 grams onion, 1/2 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 100 grams block of bacon)
360 cc red wine
4 small onions
1 head broccoli
Ingredient B (720 cc each of water and demiglace sauce, 360 cc canned boiled tomato, 1 bay leaf, 5 grams consomme powder)
Tie beef block with butcher’s string. Cut each of Ingredient A into 1-cm dices. Place beef, Ingredient A and wine in bowl and leave in fridge overnight. Remove beef and Ingredient A from bowl. Pat beef dry, dust with flour and brown all sides in frying pan. Stir-fry Ingredient A until tender.
Pour wine left in bowl in pot and reduce to half the amount. Add Ingredient B to pot and bring to a boil. Add Ingredient A and beef and remove the foam that rises. Place a drop lid, then a regular lid and cook over low heat for 2 to 3 hours. Remove beef and untie the string. When beef has cooled somewhat, cut into bite-size pieces and return to pot.
Run sauce in pot through sieve, simmer with small onions and carrot cut into appropriate size. Boil potatoes and broccoli separately, cut into bite-size pieces and add to stew. Pour fresh cream in circular motion.
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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column