Kyoto’s chefs have reacted proactively to changes brought about by the most recent phase of globalization, hoping to ensure the continued existence and resonance of Kyoto cuisine by using science to adapt it to contemporary circumstances. These chefs are breaking new ground in their pursuit of a scientific understanding of how Kyoto cuisine works. They meet once a month in a kitchen laboratory at Kyoto University to present and analyze culinary experiments in keeping with a predetermined theme. They use their acquired knowledge to more precisely hone their culinary skills and to explain Kyoto cuisine to a global audience. Chefs visit local elementary schools, appear on national television, and welcome chefs from abroad into their kitchens so that people across the world will better understand what authentic Kyoto cuisine consists of. Although these chefs’ efforts are groundbreaking, there is also remarkable continuity to their approach. Not only has Kyoto cuisine always been in a steady state of transformation, but the chefs in the Laboratory are engaging with science and a global audience specifically so that they can ascertain Kyoto cuisine’s continued existence and importance. Though their means of understanding and articulating what Kyoto cuisine is differs from that of their predecessors, concepts like shun (seasonality) and hin (refinement) still guide chefs today. Ultimately, then, based on interviews and participant observation conducted in and outside of the Japanese Cuisine Laboratory in 2012 and 2013, I argue that by engaging with contemporary food science, Kyoto’s chefs achieve a strategic balance of protecting their culinary heritage while adapting it to contemporary circumstances.
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