The NOMA restaurant team of sixty people left Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo yesterday at 1100 AM, and I joined them in the ground floor lobby as more than one hundred cooks and other hotel staff cheered and waved and hugged to signal their departure.
Cameras went off by the dozen, lots of cheers and smiles. I imagined that it was like being with a rock band of great notoriety. The warmth and excitement were deep and genuine. It was moving to see so much happiness.
We rode two buses with thirty people on each to Haneda airport. In less than an hour, we arrived there.
The restaurant team, including chef Rene Redzepi kept coming over to introduce themselves, and tell me about themselves.
Rene is unique among chefs I know: He dressed simply, spoke softly, did not separate himself from his team, and was engaged in the nitty-gritty of the trip. Such as helping to pass out airline tickets, unload luggage, and when seated on the plane to Itami-Osaka placed in row 39 of economy between two of his three children. His humility was demotic, and it must inform his cooking.
It took one hour by bus to Kyoto. We arrived at Hyatt Regency. After champagne toasts and an introduction by Ken Yokoyama, the GM, we left for our rooms.
That night the chef hit a top kaiseki restaurant. I met my friend Mika for yakitori at Torito. Torito is my new favorite yakitori in Japan: Small and lively room, well priced and deliciously smoky chicken, good draft beer. My third visit, and I’ll be back on Thursday.
Tonight is a benefit for Kyotographie, a terrific photography collective, at which I’ll be doing a Q & A with Rene Redzepi on the subject of creativity in cooking.