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Foraging for Lunch in the Imperial City

Two chefs with one philosophy prepare a cross-cultural meal.

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It's a tranquil morning on the Philosopher's Path, a scenic walkway along a tree-lined canal in Kyoto's Higashiyama district. Chef Yoshihiro Imai of Monk, the only restaurant along the pedestrian road, heads out for an early morning foraging excursion with chef Mads Refslund, who is visiting Japan for the first time. Refslund, a co-founder of Noma and a pioneer of New Nordic cuisine, is a proponent of foraging for local ingredients. He's in Japan looking for ideas for his new restaurant. Imai, in turn, draws inspiration from Scandinavian cuisine, which he interprets through a Japanese lens.

Despite their cultural differences, the two young chefs share a philosophy that calls for a rigorous return to simplicity. Ingredients should be local and seasonal; preparations should be primitive, like cooking over wood fire. This is the future of dining as they see it.

After foraging in nearby Ohara, a serene mountain village north of Kyoto, the pair head back to Monk, Imai's simply furnished restaurant. Nature is ever present: Bunches of freshly-picked wild carrots sit in earthenware pots, and a small bird's nest holds business cards.

The chefs prepare a rustic lunch inspired by the ingredients they've brought to the kitchen. Imai builds a slow fire in his kiln, Mads pulls the dough for a pizza. Together they cook and then eat, inspired by the purity and simplicity of local Japanese ingredients.

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