Vegetable-centric Eateries Show Creativity is Alive and Well

Top chefs from around the world predicted that vegetables and “fabulous experimental vegetarian food” would catch a wave in 2012, along with the use of pure and natural ingredients from ethically produced, sustainable farming.

The uptake on this trend in Tokyo restaurants demonstrates a growing consumer demand for delicious, healthy food with known origins. It also demonstrates the creative and entrepreneurial spirit with which young Japanese — and even mainstream Japan — are fulfilling that demand. But don’t stop reading if you are a carnivore; this trend is not just about veggies!

We can find three great examples here in Tokyo right now. Consider the wave in motion!

Roppongi Nouen

A self-proclaimed “agriculture experimental restaurant,” this restaurant located smack in the middle of Roppongi aims to connect farms in the countryside with the urban city. I was astounded to see a fallow planting bed in a space that could have easily held 6 diners — a real first in space- constrained Tokyo! “Nouen” means “farm,” and at this unique restaurant, owned by 30-something Hima Furuta, ingredients grown on-site are utilized, and small- to medium-sized farmers also feature their seasonal yields

Menu-wise, there is plenty to choose from — not only veggies, but also beef carpaccio, home cured bacon and free-range chicken.

In addition to enjoying wonderful fresh seasonal tastes, it is a great example of “personal marketing” at its best. Everyone at our table bought a box of Yamagata peaches (the featured item that night) that were perfect in every way.

Vegetable Sushi Potager

Using only vegetables, French-trained owner chef Aya Kakisawa creates sushi that is both beautiful and delicious. Sourcing seasonally-correct vegetables from all over Japan, she is on a mission to help raise the popularity of vegetables, and consumers seem to be responding to her enthusiasm.

Having operated an “organic veggie café” in Tochigi Prefecture for 3 years, in 2006 Kakisawa opened what is said to be the “world’s first vegetable based sweets specialty store” (called Patisserie Potager) in Nakameguro, with the hope of further conveying the charm of vegetables that she experienced through her connections with organic vegetable farmers. Imaginative desserts such as “kabocha squash chiffon cake” and “avocado layer cheese cake” are the order of the day.

Then in 2011, she opened the vegetable sushi specialty restaurant “Vegetable Sushi Potager” near Roppongi Hills. With her strong interest in educating consumers regarding healthy eating and farming — including hands-on tours of vegetable producing areas, vegetables have truly found a new friend and promoter!

New Tokyo Restaurant, Daiichi Tamachi Building

Demonstrating mainstream uptake of the trend, a major Tokyo-based restaurant chain operates a new restaurant near Tamachi Station, in a building owned by Tamachi Building Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd (MHI).

As part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, the MHI Group aims to contribute to the environment and the wellbeing of the community through the use of “mini-factory” units that make on-site cultivation of safe and healthy fresh vegetables possible, without pesticides or agricultural chemicals.

In the Daiichi Tamachi Building, two vegetable mini-factory units are powered via a solar generation system. In one day, about 60 heads of leaf lettuce can be harvested, along with about 1,500 heads of baby greens. As a world-renowned “food city,” one would expect Tokyo to be on top of food trends, if not leading them. These are only three of many restaurants involved in this trend. Because of it, we will all be eating better in the future!

Debbie Howard is Chairman of CarterJMRN KK, and President Emeritus of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. She is also a Visiting Professor of marketing at Sophia University.

By: Debbie Howard (Originally Published in Nikkei Weekly,19th November2012)

CarterJMRN is a strategic market research agency that has been helping clients with consumers and businesses in Japan and beyond since 1989.

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