Atelier Nespresso 2016 reunited two celebrated chefs in Japan and inspired them to create coffee-laced dishes for a cast of connoisseurs.
Yoshihiro Narisawa and Tetsuya Wakuda are old friends. The Japanese chefs have collaborated before on menus in places as far afield as Australia and Brazil, but they had never cooked together in their home country. Then, in November 2016, they decided to get together for a coffee - but not just any coffee.
Narisawa, whose eponymous Tokyo restaurant was rated number eight on the 2016 World's 50 Best Restaurants list, and Wakuda, the man behind Tetsuya's in Sydney and Waku Ghin in Singapore, are both big coffee lovers. "I think that coffee is a something that everyone on earth should share," says Narisawa.
It's fitting the two chefs should finally share a kitchen in Tokyo during Atelier Nespresso 2016, the first time this special event has come to Asia. Held in a different city around the world each year, Atelier Nespresso brings some of the planet's top chefs, bartenders, sommeliers, coffee connoisseurs and food media together to enjoy some exceptional culinary experiences and "auspicious coffee moments".
The two-day event featured Nespresso Grand Cru tastings, cocktail presentations and a series of coffee-themed meals culminating in a gala dinner presented by Narisawa and Wakuda at Tokyo's Happo-en Garden, a beautiful space surrounded by century-old bonsai trees, Edo-style teahouses and manicured gardens. Both chefs prepared dishes that incorporated Nespresso Grand Crus.
Although Japan is traditionally associated with tea, the country now has a strong coffee culture. "Coffee is such an integral part of everyone's life, but it can be so much more" said Wakuda. "When you pair coffee with something you never thought to pair with it before, it becomes even more of an experience."
For one dish, Wakuda paired roast scampi with braised orange-scented witlof and Nespresso-infused oil. "This sounds a bit weird," he said. "You might think 'very intense', but it's super-delicate with just a little of the oil on the surface."
Atelier Nespresso guest and fellow chef Shannon Bennett of Melbourne's Vue de Monde, a Nespresso ambassador, praised Wakuda's scampi dish. "Tetsuya's food is very simple," he said. "But the amount of work that goes into it is something I have a huge amount of respect for."
For the main course Narisawa served charcoal-grilled wagyu with a bitter ristretto-soy glaze and pickled vegetables cut into autumn leaves.
"We have the culture of enjoying bitter flavours in Japan," he said. "This is unusual compared to lots of other cuisines, and in that sense, there's a very close link between enjoying coffee and Japanese food."
Atelier Nespresso 2016 included a bonsai class, visits to Tokyo restaurants Tempura Kondo, Shirosaka and Narisawa and a tour of the Tsukiji Fish Market led by Wakuda (featured in the video above). The take-home message was clear: when it comes to both coffee and gastronomy, quality ingredients, good provenance and precise execution are key.