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The “Japanese Turn” in Fine Dining in the United States, 1980–2017
Samuel H. Yamashita
Professor, Henry E. Sheffield Professor of History
In the 1970s, Japanese chefs began to appear in the kitchens of nouvelle cuisine chefs in France for further training, and scores more arrived in succeeding decades. Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Jöel Robuchon, and other leading French culinary experts also started visiting Japan to teach their counterparts and to sample Japanese cuisine, and some eventually opened restaurants there. In the 1980s and 1990s, their frequent visits to Japan and the steady flow of Japanese stagiaires to French restaurants in Europe and the United States encouraged a series of changes that culminated in what Yamashita calls the “Japanese turn.” Chefs at fine-dining establishments in Los Angeles, New York City, and the Bay Area began to use an ever-widening array of Japanese ingredients, adopt the Japanese tasting-menu format, employ Japanese culinary techniques, and even add Japanese dishes to their menus. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the wide acceptance of Japanese ingredients, culinary techniques, and concepts like umami in the restaurant world suggests that Japanese food and foodways have been naturalized and now are a part of American haute cuisine.