By foot we can walk roughly 4 kilometers per hour. It may be a challenge, but if one walks half the day they can cover 50 kilometers.
Surely the various other available means of transportation can take us farther, faster. The same goes for things being transported – stuffed in a box and systematically distributed, express delivery is just moments away. But do things moved around this way know the wind, the current, or the topography of the land? The hands they came from and that passed them on? Do the people making them and exchanging them meet others and discover new things along the way?
Recently, there is a movement towards escaping our predilection for efficiency, and instead focusing on stewardship of culture and natural resources by being more conscious of our surrounding environment. The definition of surroundings is ambiguous–perhaps our best guideline is what we can reach by foot in a day: 50 kilometers in any direction, the natural human scale of movement through a landscape, the surroundings which shape us and the beings we meet along the way.
“In the present day, most things are easily and quickly obtained, including ingredients. Yet if a chef succumbs to getting everything they want in this way, they will often start putting many different ingredients into a dish,” says Azumi Head Chef Kenya Akita. “The plating may end up very beautiful, but the story will often lack, and I don’t think the potential flavor of each ingredient used can be reached. On the other hand, limiting yourself to the specific ingredients found only in one’s surrounding environment requires seeking them out and preparing them with a deeper devotion to allowing them to express their truest flavor.”
Chef Akita began thinking about human-scale food when he was cooking in the French countryside in the Loire Valley and Annecy. Life in rural Europe validated his doubts about relying on luxurious, unfamiliar ingredients like caviar and foie gras, and taught him how to elevate the ingredients familiar to the local people. This experience led him to the idea of “Simplexité,” a balance between simplicity and complexity.
“I’ve always focused on carrots as my specialty – they take three whole days to prepare. Ingredients cannot just be served as they are; a chef is needed to prepare and cook them. It takes a lot of work and effort to truly extract the flavor of an ingredient, and the work doesn’t end there. I also strive to not display all the complex work that went into it, but rather to keep the final plated appearance quite simple.”
For Akita, who had never been to Setoda prior, it was an unknown place, yet, “because I knew nothing about the area, that made it easier to come here”. As someone who has moved from place to place ever since becoming a chef, it’s a given that he would search for ingredients that can’t be found anywhere else. When Akita began searching around Azumi Setoda, he found the carrots of Shimomin Farm just 40 km to the north. Knowing nothing about the area, Akita could truly start from a blank slate. Back in Setoda, he is working with Sanare Saien to farm his own small plot in one corner of their farm, growing Autumn Poem, a type of asparagus flower.
Shimomin Farm focuses solely on growing organic carrots. Mr. Shimomiya explains the reason for this. “With rare ingredients, it is hard to judge what the flavor standard for that ingredient is in the first place. It cannot be compared to anything. By growing something that everyone is familiar with, when it truly tastes great, it really makes an impact on people.”
Having a natural attunement to your environment leads to a reliance on your nearby surroundings. It creates a fundamental necessity to use a certain vegetable. The dining room at Azuma Setoda is Chef Akita’s canvas for painting a picture of the world around him. Chef Akita aims to create a space for the local community to congregate. The alchemy of local ingredients and architect Shiro Miura’s renovations creates an immersive experience that brings people into harmony with their surroundings.
Chef Akita’s vision of local surroundings becomes clear by visiting Azumi Sedota. Foods from within a 50 kilometer radius are brought to life with Simplexité and a focus on meaningful flavor.