Airdate: Maggie Beer in Japan

2017 food special through Tokyo, Osaka and Noto will now screen on ABC.

2017 food special Maggie Beer in Japan, filmed for Foxtel, will screen on ABC next week.

Expect the word “journey.”

Maggie has been intrigued by Japanese food for 20 years and has decided its finally time to put her fears aside and travel to Japan to master its flavours.

Maggie Beer’s cooking has always been inspired by the use of the freshest local produce in season and she describes herself as a Mediterranean cook who lives in the Barossa, SA. But she has a food secret; for 20 years she has been intrigued by Japanese food. She sets off to Japan, fired by her love of learning and a challenge to produce an exciting Japanese inspired feast for her Barossa friends.

We join her in Tokyo, then travel by Shinkansen, the fast train, across the mountains north to rural Noto Peninsula, an area still far off the travellers beaten track, and finally south to Osaka. During this journey she meets chefs, eats their food, and joins their lives. And in true Maggie style, there is a lot of laughter and love.

In Tokyo, Maggie walks the streets and is overwhelmed by the people and the food. Here there are more tiny, mind-blowing restaurants in a city block than most great cities have in their entire expanse. She is met by Koji Fukuda (once head chef at Luke Mangan’s ‘Salt’ and now owner of two restaurants in Tokyo) who starts her food journey by taking her to meet a revered master, a shokunin. Shokunin are craftsmen who devote their entire life to mastering one dish, and Koji takes her to meet Kanejiro Kanemoto of Nodaiwa – who has been cooking eel, and just eel, for the past 60 years.

From Nodaiwa, Koji takes her home to meet his family and to prepare an ordinary everyday family meal. The dishes made by Koji inspire Maggie in her cooking for her friends. Keen to get a feel for the younger and more modern chefs, Maggie visits Hideki Ii of Shirosaka, an elegant eatery that specializes in grilled dishes. Here she experiences Japanese flavours and Hideki’s artful presentation but also food which is a creative interpretation of both Japanese and western cuisines. In a surprising twist, Hideki Ii makes a Japanese influenced pate.

Catching the fast train, the Shinkansen, she travels to rural Noto Peninsula, where she meets an Australian, Ben, and his wife Chikako who run a typical Japanese inn and restaurant whilst upholding the traditions of Chikako’s family. Chikako’s parents are the ‘King and Queen of Fermentation’ and devout practitioners of the art of ‘mottainai’, meaning nothing goes to waste. Here Maggie finds a land which has so many similarities to her Barossa, and yet the flavours are so different, and in Ben’s cooking, once again, Maggie finds the amalgamation of cuisines – Ben’s Italian background influencing the dishes he makes. Ben and Chikako make her so welcome, and she feels so much at home that she says “I may just have fallen in love.”

Finally, after crossing the country and going south, Maggie arrives in Osaka and she is taken by Mariko Isohata through the streets and the throngs of people out eating, to her final meal in Japan. This is a kappo style, a Michelin star restaurant run by second generation Osamu Ueno. He presents an exquisitely prepared plate of different sashimi. Her last mouthful, squid and sea urchin with white sesame oil, reminds her of her first trip to Japan where she had a taste she still remembers as “an absolute out of body experience”; the start of her Japanese intrigue.

It’s then back to the Barossa to adapt her newfound knowledge and to share her new dishes with her friends.

Maggies enthusiasm for the land, the food and the people is inspiring, and the dishes she creates show that her search to understand and perfect the flavour techniques has paid off, and has made its way into her food. The Japanese people may have created the greatest feast on earth, but Maggie Beer has produced the greatest Mediterranean-Japanese feast.

9:20pm Tuesday on ABC.

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