Restaurant Hiramatsu Hiroo uses a huge variety of vegetables, including many varieties that you won’t find on the menu elsewhere. All are the finest of their kind, specially selected by Chef Hiroki Hiramatsu.
But how do we get hold of such wonderful vegetables? The secret lies in our relationship with farms that listen carefully to our chef’s detailed requirements concerning flavour, size, ripeness, and experiment tirelessly
One such farm is Granja, run by Ms Aya Samizu. Strictly speaking, it’s not a commercial farm, producing vegetables for market, but more of a research centre that takes varieties of vegetable which have until now not been widely produced and grows them on an experimental basis, trying out different methods of cultivation and harvest timings. Granja mainly grows European vegetable varieties.
Ms Samizu is a powerful ally to Chef Hiramatsu: “When I want vegetables that are not commonly grown in Japan, the first person I ask is Ms Samizu. Besides flavour, of course, I’m very particular about size, and the way they are grown. Ms Samizu and I have the same way of thinking”.
After Granja has determined the best way to grow the vegetables, the commercial farmers take over and grow them on a full-scale basis. Thanks to this division of labour, even commercial farmers can grow rare vegetables.
“I sometimes visit actual farms in Europe to see how they grow things there, after which I consider how they can be grown in the climate and conditions we have here in Japan. In some cases, it can be a few years before a particular vegetable can be grown and shipped commercially, and because Chef Hiramatsu insists on natural farming methods, sometimes I have to start planning from the soil,” says Ms Samizu.
Using the results of Ms Samizu’s research, Mr. and Mrs. Momose of Azumino Sky Farm then grow the vegetables in a way that is close to how they will eventually be farmed.
The Momoses’ main business is commercial strawberry farming. So they are busy every day, keeping an eye on the progress of their crop, but at the same time, on behalf of Ms Samizu, they use fallow land to grow a variety of vegetables on an experimental basis, under almost natural conditions. At first sight, the fields seem to be filled with weeds,but, on closer inspection, you find courgettes and several varieties of aubergine, beetroot etc growing happily among them. These vegetables are astonishingly vigorous.
“Vegetables grown in this natural way are vigorous, with great depth of flavour, and they inspire my cooking,” says Chef Hiramatsu. Their flavour when freshly picked and tasted raw, on the spot, is something special.
But getting a vegetable farming operation established takes time, and apparently it was around two years before the Momoses were ready to ship crops such as artichokes.
“Vegetables grown under natural conditions are especially vigorous. Dishes made with vegetables that have as much power as these are something to look forward too, don’t you think?” All the more so when they embody the passion the Momoses put into growing their vegetables.
Another vegetable producer, Mugi-dance Noen, run by young farmer Mr. Ohsawa, grows flowering courgettes, which are used in top-class restaurant dishes.
“We give a lot of care and attention to growing our vegetables, partly because the rainfall this summer was extremely low,” said Mr. Ohsawa. Growing vegetables is a battle with nature: at the time of Chef Hiramatsu’s visit, there had been no rain for a whole month, and last year the area was hit by a typhoon. Moreover, the pollination season for courgettes grown on high plateaus is very short, and it’s critical that there should be no rain during that time.
“Because there’s so little rain, we use techniques such as growing seedlings in soil with the same high clay content as the soil they will be transplanted to, so that they are able to make strong roots when we transplant them.”
It’s thanks to the farmers’ persistence, their constant battle with nature, taking account of soil quality, and adapting growing techniques, that we have such wonderful, delicious vegetables.
It was striking to see the smiles on the faces of the young people who were transplanting seedlings while listening to jazz. You would never guess how hard their work is.
These powerful vegetables are nutritious and filled with natural flavour. Before they reach our restaurant, the farmers have devoted countless hours of research, and loving care and attention to their growing.
So it’s no exaggeration to say that the vegetables served at Restaurant Hiramatsu Hiroo are treasures created in collaboration with their producers.