The borders between food and art have long been fluid in Japan, especially in the arena of kaiseki, the elaborate, multi-course, high-end cuisine. Whether a stylised evocation of seasonal bounty, the inky brushstrokes of calligraphy or the cartoon whimsy of a Hokusai manga, the underlying ethos remains constant. The pleasure of any dish is doubled if you eat first with the eyes and then with the mouth.
So it is only fitting that Art Week Tokyo has added an edible component to go with the inventive, artist-designed cocktails at the event’s pop-up bar. Its first chef’s commission goes to Shinsuke Ishii, whose popular modern French restaurant Sincere has held a Michelin star since he opened it in the Sendagaya district in 2016.
Drawing inspiration from three fundamental aspects of Japan’s natural environment—the mountains, forest and sea—Ishii has created a menu of finger food, each comprising a savoury item and a sweet. Just as with the appetisers he serves at his own restaurant, these tidbits express both the playfulness and the gravity with which he approaches his craft.
For the former, look no further than the savoury Peter Rabbit-shaped monaka (crisp wafer) shells stuffed with pork rillettes and simmered beef cheek, or the trompe l’oeil “grapes” made from foie gras and “acorns” that turn out to be cacao and chestnut madeleines (pictured above).
But Ishii is entirely serious in his seafood offering. A fish tartare prepared from bycatch, fish that would ordinarily be wasted, is served on a charcoal-black cookie shaped like a fish skeleton—a comment on the state of the world’s oceans and his commitment to sustainability when it comes to the food he serves in his restaurant.
As cofounder of the Japanese lobby group Chefs for the Blue, Ishii is not shy about speaking out on issues such as overfishing and discards, or boosting biodiversity in Japan’s marine ecosystems. These are, of course, challenges facing not just his industry but humanity as a whole—and the artistry of his food is his statement to the world.