Discover the culinary delights of Hokkaido with Chef Stuart Brioza

Dec 19, 2023

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Explore the culinary wonders of Hokkaido with renowned chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski as they embark on a unique journey starting from the northern town of Wakkanai. Known for their Michelin-starred restaurant in California, Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski opted for a personalised adventure curated by Kammui, a travel concierge service.

They wanted to delve deep into Hokkaido's abundant produce and seafood, taking a rental camper car from Wakkanai south and eastward towards the picturesque Shiretoko Peninsula. However, before reaching this wild destination, the culinary duo make a significant detour to Rishiri Island, a volcanic peak emerging from the frigid Sea of Japan, showcasing the diverse and extraordinary offerings of this northernmost region of Japan.

Island of Umami

The remote island of Rishiri is celebrated for its globally renowned uni (sea urchin) sourced from its waters. While today it's recognised for its gastronomic delights, particularly in sushi, in earlier times, Rishiri was known for providing Japan and the world with the highest quality kombu. This long, leathery seaweed, hand-harvested, sun-dried, and allowed to mature, is a crucial component in the dashi served at top-tier Japanese restaurants.

Chef Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski highlights the labour-intensive preparation, often conducted in challenging weather conditions. He also expresses awe at witnessing the kombu harvesting process and visiting a tororo (shaved) kombu master artisan, as he describes it as "angel wings," commonly used as a traditional garnish in Japanese cuisine.

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Niseko Without the Snow

Chef Stuart Brioza and , drawn to Hokkaido's Niseko for its powder snow, plan to return to the area, accompanied by their 12-year-old son, Jasper. Their familiarity with Niseko, including friends like Hisashi Watanabe and Ioanna Morelli, known for the winter-favourite Bar Gyu, makes it an ideal endpoint for their road trip.

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Brioza expresses his chef's desire to engage with ingredients and cook, viewing it as a way to repay the support received, particularly from Watanabe and Morelli in planning the trip. Serving a private dinner with ingredients gathered during their travels is not a chore but an opportunity for Brioza to share the moments that shaped their journey.

Fish Market Discoveries in Hakodate

Before reaching Niseko, the Brioza family makes a crucial stop in Hakodate, staying overnight and attending the early morning auction at the waterfront wholesale fish market. Despite midsummer being the low season, the lively auction, ritual bell-ringing, and pristine cleanliness make it a noteworthy experience.

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Winning a bid for a 2-kilogram hirame (flounder), Brioza plans to prepare a light ceviche with melon and shiso leaf. More excitingly, he discovers a local variety of anchovy, reminiscent of his restaurant, The Anchovy Bar, in San Francisco. Procuring a few kilos of chika (smelt), he creates the Hakodate Auction Anchovy Toast, a highlight of the Niseko dinner.

Each Dish has a Lesson and an Anecdote

The Niseko dinner, which consists of eight courses, encompasses various tales, from incorporating Rishiri seaweed into cavatelli pasta to sourcing fresh produce at a roadside market near Niseko. The main dish features Ezo shika venison sourced from Tokachi, where Brioza meets Maya the Deer Hunter, a young woman turned licensed traditional hunter.

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Exploring Yoichi Wine Country

A significant encounter involves a bicycle tour of Yoichi, renowned for whisky and emerging as Japan's exciting new wine country. Visiting three organic wineries, including Domaine Mont and Lowbrow Craft, Brioza appreciates winemaker Takahiko Soga's approach to growing pinot noir on volcanic soil. The evening concludes with spirits and toasts, highlighting the infectious enthusiasm of the Brioza family.

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