Born in Hokkaido, raised in America, and trained at some of France’s most lauded establishments like Le Clown Bar and Pierre Sang in Oberkampf, Reiko Yokota draws upon her worldly upbringing as the Pastry Chef of Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto.
“Traveling and all of these experiences gave me a unique perspective when it comes to desserts,” says Yokota, who’s quickly established herself as a culinary star to watch with her intellectual and artistic approach in the kitchen. She continued, “I love the transformation process of my work. I can shape the ingredients into whatever I want, it’s almost like a game for me.”
While Yokota’s job is sweet-centric, she frequently thinks about how to reimagine traditional savory dishes and flavors. This mindset is especially evident in the hotel’s very popular afternoon tea. On the current fall menu, for example, a creamy mushroom soup becomes lighter and is as tasty as a mushroom cappuccino, while a tea sandwich takes on local influences with grilled eggplant and smoky eel. “Because Japan has four true seasons, all of our ingredients have a distinct, but delicate flavor,” Yokota explained. “This is what I want people to experience and taste, while staying true to nature and keeping the vibrancy of the original product.”
Outside of work, Kyoto is just as passionate about exploring Kyoto’s ever-evolving dining scene. Here, she shares her favorite restaurants in town—all of which are small and independently owned.
“Jacob, the chef, worked at Copenhagen’s Noma, and brings a simliar cooking style to LURRA° with an innovative chef’s tasting menu. He uses a wood-burning oven, and no gas. The food is very creative and reflects the seasons. Jacob himself goes out to the fields and forages many ingredients. The restaurant has one Michelin star, and offers two seats for dinner.”
“This Japanese restaurant specializing in Kaiseki cuisine also has one Michelin star. It’s a very small place, and not very well known. The way they prepare fish is unbelievably good—it almost tastes magical. The beauty of dining here is not just about the seasonal ingredients, but the actual plates themselves. Many of them have historical value, so you can see the beauty of Japanese culture while you eat.”
“With only about 10 counter seats, the style of To. is best described as Italian with Japanese and Moroccan influences. Because it offers tapas-style small plates, you can try a lot of different things. Everything tastes so fresh and exciting. There’s a sake counter as well.”
“This is another very small restaurant where reservations are needed. What’s unique about this place is that the chef has a very strong sense of smell. He understands that good taste, especially when it comes to something as delicate as sushi, has to be well-balanced between aroma, texture and taste.”
“While this spot pairs Japanese tea with different seasonal sweets, it’s not completely traditional. The owner performs the actual tea ceremony, and has modernized it with a thoughtful design and unique ingredients. The experience is so interesting, as you sit in a very quiet room for about two hours.”
Ramen no Bombo
In Kyoto, Tori Paitan is the popular style of ramen. The broth is typically made from chicken bones and feet, and is slow-cooked for so long the color becomes milky-white. The flavor is very intense, yet delicate. It’s not too strong or salty.”