Opus Affair recently held their first sushi TAG dinner, with a menu from Chef Seizi Imura from Cafe Sushi and music curated by Ryan Connelly, of Hallelujah The Hills. TAG dinners are inspired by the Japanese poetic form renga, where poets collaboratively compose alternating three-line and two-line stanzas. Instead of poetry, TAG is a dialogue between music and food. A musician comes up with a playlist inspired by the previous event's menu, and that playlist then serves as the inspiration for the chef to create a new menu, resulting in a string of interconnected events.
The TAG chain: TJ Connelly → Jonathan Fenelon → Randy Wong → Chris Cordeiro → Brother Cleve → Josh Lewin → Sally VanderPloeg → Chris Cordeiro → Ryan Connelly → Seizi Imura
Many thanks to the dinner hosts and chefs Seizi Imura, Wyatt Maguire and Byron Yang for such an incredible meal and experience. Throughout the dinner, Ryan paired each course with a drink and a selection of music...a few of my favorite tracks that I listened to while editing are listed below!
1. Sockeye salmon spoons, paired with "Bamboo" - Dolin Dry, La Cigarrera Manzanilla, Regan's No. 6, Angostura, from the Grand Hotel in Yokohama, 1890s
Etude No. 1 - Philip Glass
2. Maguro carpaccio and chi-aie, paired with 2013 Lamoresca "Nerocapitano", Frappato, Sicily, IT
Silver Fox - RJD2
3. Crispy orata in broth, paired with 2012 Francois Chidaine "Les Argiles" Vouvray, Chenin Blanc, Loire, FR
Under Crooked Trees - Birdlips
4. Zucchini noodle sunomono, paired with Murphy's Stout, Edinburgh, Scotland under supervision from Cork, Ireland
It's Alright - Junip
5. Surf and Turf "Okonomiyaki", paired with 2013 Domaine de la Grande Colline "Le Canon", Syrah, Rhone, FR
Farewell Transmission - Songs: Ohia
6. Hamachi "sushi" 80s style, paired with "Kenny Goon's Mai Tai" - Bacardi Gold, Kenny's Mix, Line, from the late China Snails, Brookline, MA Gronlandic Edit - Of Montreal
7. Buta kakuni & hamaguri chirashi, paired with 2009 Domaine de la Tournelle "Savagnin de Voile", Jura, FR
Tokyo - The Books
Sifting through remnants from my time studying in Italy - contact sheets, sketchbooks and notes scrawled all over papers that I now can't quite decipher - reminds me of how it was in the beginning. I'm pulling together some notes for our photography workshop in Italy this fall, and these leftover pieces are a visual representation of how I used to see and of all the struggles of learning. Numerous sleeves of negatives show me someone who was a mess with quick manual focusing and who didn't understand exposure. You can see from my contact sheets that I was all over the place without any direction, but that was ok. It was all part of learning to see differently, becoming more sensitive to light, and getting to a point where it felt more intuitive. What's exciting is when you can look back at a group of images and notice not only how much has changed but also how that disjointed group hints at a style you want to develop.
There are a few photographers - instructors or people I've worked with - who are very important to me, and some may not know how much so. One of those people is Romeo DiLoreto, and I was happy to find that I still had the syllabus from his Black & White Photography II course tucked into a notebook. He was extremely patient with our class and also in his own work, meticulous but not to a point where the feeling of his images was lost in pursuit of technical perfection. In his syllabus he writes about the long process of mastering technique, enjoying every bit of it and working hard.
"Please chase the wind...moreover, I hope you never catch it! Be a child, enjoy, investigate, be curious, question not only what you hear but also what you see...just do not question what you feel."
This fall I will be teaming up with Carol Ketelson of Delectable Destinations and food stylist Catrine Kelty to offer a week-long food styling and photography workshop in Italy! The workshop will be held in Impruneta, just outside of Florence, and will also include cooking classes and visits to Florence, Radda, Pienza and Montepulciano. While some of the photography/styling instruction will take place at the Estate of Villa Quercia in Impruneta, much of the instruction will be integrated into what you'll be experiencing: a chef-guided market tour in Florence, a day trip to Crete Senesi, visits to farms and wine & olive oil tastings. Italy has been a constant source of inspiration to me over the past decade, so I'm very excited to be working with Carol and Catrine to share this opportunity with you, whether it is your first visit or you're returning to learn about photography and experience Italy in a new way.
My friend Zoe McCarthy is getting ready for her first solo show! The show runs from May 7th - 26th at the Landau Gallery in Belmont (350 Prospect St.), with an opening reception on May 14th from 5:30 to 8:30pm. You can also stop by and see her work in her studio during the Vernon Street Open Studios on May 3rd and 4th.
When people have asked me what the best parts of the trip were, I've told them that one was meeting Katsura and her family. I met them on the street in Tokyo when I was lost, and ended up reconnecting with them in Kyoto, where they live. Two of the days in Kyoto were spent getting to know Katsura - more about that soon. The amount of time spent in Kyoto was really too brief to even begin to understand it, so looking back now it feels very surreal. A few of my favorite images from the dream... Tofu donuts from Nishiki Market.
A friend lent me his copy of Old Kyoto by Diane Durston - a guide to traditional shops, restaurants and inns. The information is beautifully woven together with stories of family establishments, some that have been in business for over ten generations. I love this book so much that I had to get my own copy. I was able to visit a few of the places listed, and Yubahan was one of them.
According to Old Kyoto, Yubahan began making yuba (soy milk skin) in 1716, and the old wooden structure was reconstructed after a fire in 1864. Yuba can be purchased fresh or dried and is said to contain the highest concentration of protein found in any natural food.
Through an unusual string of serendipitous events, I ventured out at sunrise one morning to go to Yubahan and watch the making of yuba. I was offered a seat by a small heater and a little dish of fresh yuba drizzled with soy sauce. After the soybeans are soaked overnight, ground, and boiled for hours, they are pressed through cheesecloth. The extracted milk is then placed in heated vats, thin sheets begin to form on the surface, and then are deftly swept up with wooden sticks.
This was the moment when I wished more than anything that I could communicate. One day while in Kyoto, I had a conversation with a woman that was in the exact order it had unfolded on a Japanese language CD I'd tried before the trip (it happened once, and never again, but it was fun while it lasted!). While sitting in the steam-filled shop, I made every possible attempt to get by. We used a pocket dictionary and a lot of gestures, they showed me an article about Yubahan in Bon Appetit, and somehow, with an excessive amount of thanking and a little confusion, a conversation was had.
Two of my mornings in Tokyo started with unbelievably fresh sushi at Tsukiji Market. After breakfast, I roamed around the outer market, comprised of produce, knives, pottery, and alleys of noodle shops, until the wholesale area opened to visitors. By this time, there was a sense that some of the frenetic energy of the earlier hours was beginning to wind down. Still, there were carts zig-zagging around the alleys and plenty to be aware and considerate of, particularly when bringing a camera into a work space. I lurked behind a few tour groups and caught on to a bit of information, but other than that just took it all in. This article by Martin Fackler for The New York Times discusses the plans for and concerns about the relocation of the market.
A few shots around Tokyo in the evening hours. My one suggestion is to find a karaoke bar and sing. Definitely, absolutely, sing.
Above: Shabu-zen and Nightfly bar, Shibuya.
Above: Yamashita Shoten, a 24-hour bookshop right near Shibuya station. Below: view from The New York Bar.
For the holidays, my mom got me a copy of Japanese Soul Cooking, a cookbook by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat. The book explores the comfort foods you'd find in both neighborhood restaurants and in homes and includes step-by-step photographs. Although I haven't tried the recipes yet, before leaving for Japan I jotted down a few of the author's favorite places in Tokyo to try some of the dishes shared in the book. They noted that the recommendations were Japanese speaking only, but not to let it discourage you.
My top choice was to try soba at Kanda Matsuya, founded in 1884. I found a long line of people and assumed I was in the right place, but checked with the group of people behind me in line to be sure. They were curious as to how I found out about Kanda Matsuya, so I told them about the cookbook and they invited me to sit at their table. I had planned on ordering hot soba, but instead went with the cold soba they recommended (along with a thick potato soup, tempura, and grilled chicken and pork to start). The cookbook has some interesting history and information woven in with the recipes, one note being that for mori soba, made up of just cold soba, dipping sauce, and garnishes, the soba needs to be perfect.
When we were just about finished with the mori soba, a pot of sobayu - the leftover hot water that the noodles have been boiled in - was brought to the table. This is poured into what sauce and spices are left in the dipping bowl after finishing the soba.
There is so much more that I'd want to try and see in Tokyo, but Kanda Matsuya and Takemura (below) are the two places I'd absolutely want to experience a second time. Founded in 1930, Takemura offers tea and sweets like oshiruko, a sweet bean soup with mochi. We were welcomed with a cup of sakurayu, a drink made from salted cherry blossoms in water. After we finished the tea and soup, my new friends wrote my name on a chopstick wrapper. This would have to be the best souvenir from the whole trip, and it will be put in a frame. Arigatou gozaimashita!
When I was a kid I went to a rock (and mineral) show. The thing I remember most from that experience was a long table set with a feast entirely made from polished gems. I was told that in Japan, the depachika (a hybrid of the words for "department store" and "basement") presents its food like gemstones under glass cases. It's true. Standing in the depachika at Isetan in Shinkjuku brought me right back to being ten years old and completely mesmerized by amethyst grapes.
From what I understand photos are prohibited, but this was a good thing. I complied and got swept up in the current, the voices overlapping, the total sensory overload, then photographed some of the treats and a bento box back in the room I was staying in. The best part - taking sushi up to the rooftop garden of Isetan. Along with Isetan, I visited Mitsukoshi in Ginza, which is where I found the incredible mochi that looks like a fish!
While visiting Denmark for the first time, Megumi Kusunoki was invited into a local family's home for dinner. This welcoming experience inspired her to find a way to promote cultural understanding through home cooking, so she founded Nagomi Visit, a non-profit organization that invites locals in Japan to open their homes to people from all over the world and share a meal. When I've been asked about why I decided to begin photographing food, my reasons go back to an experience much like Megumi's. Since that first invitation to sit down to dinner in a foreign place was offered to me, home cooking is something I've continued to explore, first in Maine and then in Italy.
Together with two friends, I signed up for a Cooking Visit with Yuko Omiya, where you are involved in the preparation of the meal from start to finish. We prepared a basic Japanese meal, which included chirashizushi, a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of sashimi raw fish including tuna and salmon, tonjiru, a miso-based pork soup filled with vegetables, and deep fried chicken karaage.
Yuko gave us detailed instructions and tips with photos to take home, so that we would be able to recreate the meal. She showed us how she made a drop lid (otoshibuta) out of parchment paper, to preserve as much of the flavor as possible while simmering, and deep fried the karaage twice to make sure it was perfectly crispy and juicy.
Meeting Yuko and her husband, Akio, was by far one of the best parts of the entire trip. The class was very informative, the meal, oishii (delicious), but it was Yuko and Akio's warmth that I won't forget. We instantly felt welcome, they helped us with other questions we had about Japan, and their interaction with each other was incredibly fun to photograph.
If I had a ticket to go back to Japan right now, I would schedule a number of Nagomi Visits, not only in Tokyo but in some of the rural areas where hosts are available. Thank you so much, Yuko and Akio - I hope to see you see you again someday!
The first morning in Tokyo, jet-lagged, we wandered around the completely silent streets of Shimokitazawa, and then headed over to Asakusa. It was early enough that everything was just starting to open up for the throngs of people visiting Senso-ji for the New Year.
I moved through the rows of food stands and grazed on a variety of meat and fish on sticks and okonomiyaki. At one point, a couple with a paper bag of candied sweet potatoes handed me one, along with a napkin. Maybe it was no big deal to them to share a piece with a stranger, but for me it was, and this sort of random kindness was prevalent nearly every day while I was there. I think what they gave is called Daigaku Imo, and I found a recipe for it over on the blog, Just Hungry.
From my Rob Brezsny horoscope for the New Year: "When is the last time you did an experiment? I'm not talking about scientific tests and trials that take place in a laboratory. I'm referring to real-life experiments, like when you try out an unfamiliar experience to see if it appeals to you...or when you instigate a change in your routine to attract unpredictable blessings into your sphere. Now would be an excellent time to expose yourself to a few what-ifs like that. You're overdue to have your eyes opened, your limits stretched, and your mind blown."
Whether or not you're into horoscopes - a nice piece of advice. After my first trip to Japan, I consider this accomplished. Friends who have been to Japan told me this would happen (and Anthony Bourdain said so)...eyes opened, limits stretched, mind blown. In the coming weeks I'll be sharing some of the most memorable images and stories. More soon!