Tsuyoshi Murakami at Obsession 2015

Tsuyoshi Murakami at Obsession 2015

by Felicity Spector 30 January 2015

Japanese tradition, combined with Brazilian flair and a chef at the very top of his game. Lancashire can't have seen anyone quite like Tsuyoshi Murakami.

Felicity Spector has worked in national television journalism for nearly thirty years, but has now combined her day job with an increasing interest in food writing in her spare time.

Felicity Spector has worked in national television journalism for nearly thirty years, but has now combined her day job with an increasing interest in food writing in her spare time.

Murakami has become internationally acclaimed as a pioneer of Kappo cuisine, combining the finest culinary traditions of his native Japan with the best seasonal, rare and exotic ingredients he can find. The emphasis is on simplicity: a simplicity which has propelled his Kinoshita restaurant into the World's 50 Best. "Less is more", he tells me, as we talk about the philosophy which informs his cooking. "Less is more".

The invitation to cook at Obsession came after Nigel Haworth traveled to Brazil for the World Cup, and ate at Kinoshita. "He said - wow, you have to take part in this event which I run. And it is a real honour and a pleasure to be taking part. I will be preparing four dishes and one dessert."

He has especially enjoyed sourcing local British ingredients to use in his very Japanese menu. "The produce here is very good. Brazil has a tropical climate but here it is much more like Japan with very definite seasons. Winter is winter, summer is proper summer."

Two of his Brazilian team have flown over with him, but Murakami has embraced the opportunity to work with Northcote chefs who are getting a unique chance to experience his kind of cooking. "The chef working with us has a very good heart, very powerful. It's such a good experience for our staff, but also for some of the young people trying to become chefs, and have never come across Japanese techniques."

Murakami has constructed a menu full of minutely balanced flavours and textures. To start, Scottish salmon, both fresh and smoked, served with tempura vegetables. "You have the soft taste of the fish and then the freshness of salad on top, with very crispy tempura."

Next, there's various seafood, served with a Japanese style vinaigrette combining vinegar with egg yolk. The third course is hot: local sea bass marinated in sake and miso, then grilled. "With that, I am serving all kinds of mushrooms including Portabello and enoki...which I cook and then put inside a hollowed out lime."

There's wagyu steak to follow, with foie gras and a spiced miso sauce, plus some Japanese eggplant an asparagus alongside.

"For dessert, something very different. Sorbet with yuzu and lemon, and tomato and celery marinated in Sochu, a Japanese spirit, with some shizo leaves. Very 'less is more'!"

Tsuyoshi Murakami Obsession dish
Tsuyoshi Murakami Obsession dish

Some of the dishes are taken from his repertoire at Kinoshita, others are new: "We've altered some things because the water here is different, the seasons are different, so we change things in a very positive and very creative way."

One of the most enjoyable aspects is cooking in a completely different environment and meeting old and new friends. "When I travel to other countries I encounter all sorts of fellow chefs. It's a very small world, everyone knows everyone. But we have such a different system from the French, the Italians, the Portuguese. For our kind of cuisine, you have to be very fast. And not too much fire."

Luckily, after flying all the way from Brazil, Murakami will have time to enjoy some of the other culinary treats on offer at Obsession. "We've got the chance to eat a menu with Vivek Singh from the Cinnamon Club - I will get the first experience of Indian food in my life!" He's also fitting in a dinner with some of the Portuguese chefs who'll be showcasing their country's brightest stars (including Jose Avillez and Matteo Ferrantino). "We've worked together before, they are all my friends. And I will be eating German food on Monday, a three star Michelin chef whose food is amazing."

His own cooking, he says, has been transformed by his international travels. Like his own background, which mixes Japan with Brazil. "The ingredients are all very traditional - like mirin, sake, soy sauce - but in Sao Paolo, the taste is not the same. We are not like these trendy places - nothing is deep fried or served with mayonnaise. Everything is natural, no preservatives."

He chuckles again, and repeats his mantra. "Less is more!"

Lancashire, by way of Japan and South America. You can't get much more unique than that.