“Treasure every meal, for it will never recur,” describes the spirit behind every dish chef-artist Yoshinori Ishii prepares and serves. Inspired by the centuries-old Japanese tea ceremony, Chef Ishii’s holistic approach to his culinary creations is a tribute to his Japanese roots and training.
Of his first workplace, Kyoto Kicho, where he spent nine years, he recalls, “The life there was like that of the ascetic monk. Cleaning and preparing for the day was as important as cooking itself.” At Kyoto Kicho, he also learned calligraphy and flower arranging, how to work with the soil and appreciate nature, all as essential to the restaurant’s Cha-Kaiseki specialty cuisine (served during the full-length, formal tea ceremony) as the food itself.
The importance to Chef Ishii of incorporating these arts, along with ceramics and porcelain painting, remain evident in his dishes today — as is his commitment to use choice, local, fresh, and organic products. At acclaimed restaurant Morimoto in New York, where he has been the omakase (“chef’s choice”) chef since 2006, guests sometimes have the privilege of being served fish Chef Ishii has caught himself, on pottery he has made himself. (His fishing rods, he says, are as important to him as his kitchen knives.)
Yoshinori Ishii studied at the renowned Osaka Abeno Tsuji Cooking School, then studied organic farming in Kyoto while he worked at the main restaurant at Kyoto Kitcho. Nine years later, he became the head chef at the Japanese Embassy for the United Nations, first in Geneva, then in New York. Chef Ishii was the recipient of the Rising Star Chef Award in 2008. His dream is to one day open a “small enough restaurant where I can pay great attention to my guests.”