Two cuisines, with numerous subsets, have captured the global imagination for decades through the depth of flavors in many of their dishes: French and Japanese. The differences between them are stark.
In Japan, the celebrity is the ingredient. In France, the chef is the celebrity. People who think about food know the names of today’s most revered French chefs. People who know about Japanese cooking know the names of ingredients. The result is that people who have limited experience or skill in real French cooking take the celebrity part and apply it to themselves: It’s a self-appointed, market strategy; they make themselves celebrities. Those who cook Japanese focus on what they serve (or should).
In Japan, the way to create a great dish is to decide what to leave out. In France, making a great dish means adding ingredients–creating sauces, for example. Japanese cooking is a process of subtraction, French cooking is a process of addition. The result is that people who think they know French food pile on as many ingredients as they can: Flavors are muddied. Those who cook Japanese create plates that simplify and reduce.
The best French chefs combine elements of both French and Japanese cooking: Their names are known, the ingredients are stellar, the simplicity is evident. Their humility is reminiscent of the Japanese chef whose presence is felt, but not emphasized.
The best Japanese chefs combined elements of Japanese and French cooking: Their influence is understood and not necessarily seen, ingredients are combined in original ways, and the aesthetics of simplicity are enhanced by ways of placing them which may not have been seen before.