With Funds Earmarked for Earthquake Relief, Japan Week Begins by Taking Over Grand Central

Along with mouth-watering food displays, festive red lanterns made in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture and cherry blossoms suspended in ice decorated Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall last night, as part of the gala to kick off Japan Week.

At last night’s Japan Week kick-off, dignitaries cracked open a giant barrel of Ozeki saké, as per tradition.

Along with mouth-watering food displays, festive red lanterns made in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture and cherry blossoms suspended in ice decorated Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall last night, as part of the gala to kick off Japan Week.

The event–a celebration of Japanese food and culture sponsored by sponsor JRO, or the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad–runs until March 11th and includes restaurant specials through Dine Out for Japan, exhibitions, and a Japanese food pavilion at the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York. (For a complete rundown, click here.)

This year’s Japan Week marks occasions both happy and sad: the one-year anniversary of the Great Tohoku earthquake and the 100-year anniversary of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, when Japan presented over 3,000 cherry trees both to Washington D.C. and to New York.

Because the green tea industry has been particularly hard hit by the earthquake, JRO showcased the traditional Japanese beverage at the opening bash last night, featuring it both in cooking and in cocktails. Brushstroke mixologist Gen Yamamoto created a refresher made with 12-year-old Yamazaki single-malt whiskey, pomelo, Sugimoto sen-cha green tea and kudzu; while International Restaurant Group’s Esteban Ordonez’s “Green Kimono” included shochu, the Asian pear called nashi, lime juice and Sugimoto matcha tea powder.

Elsewhere, Japan tourism booths vied with food and drink offerings from Kyo-ya, Hakata Tonton, Sakagura and Hibino and Bond Street, while prepared seaweed salad maker Azuma Food, Marukome miso dressing  and the Japanese confectioner Minamoto Kitchoan vied for guests’ attention. (Most of the gala’s stalls will be installed in the Hall until tomorrow.)

Dignitaries also cracked open a giant barrel of Ozeki saké and made toasts, while chefs Michael Romano and Angela Sosa showed up to support the cause–many of the restaurant specials during the week are also earmarked for Earthquake relief–and mingle with speaker and fellow chef David Bouley. Restaurant Daniel sous chef Roger Ma also offered tastings of a technically dazzling and delicious dish of citrus-cured fluke atop a shiso bavarois and seaweed crouton.

(As winner of the 2011 JRO Umami Recipe Challenge–for his broiled sea scallop “rosette” with Brussels sprouts, crispy rice and black miso sauce–Ma was treated to a culinary food tour of Japan that he says was mind-blowing and palate expanding: Visiting Kyoto’s top restaurants, he said made him realize that “kaiseki [seasonally driven multi-course small plates meals] is a lot like what we do at Daniel.”)

Romano—who was part of the “New York Cooks for Tohoku” chef’s delegation back in July as well as a board member of the non-profit Gohan Society, which promotes Japanese culture—told the crowd, “It’s not over there. Japan still needs your help and support.”

For the next few days, at least, that can be achieved on your way to Metro-North.

The installation at Vanderbilt Hall will be open to the public through March 3. For more information on Japan Week and related events, visit www.japanweek.us.

 

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Nancy Matsumoto is a freelance journalist who writes about health, food, arts and culture. Her advice to other food-loving parents: Think twice before you introduce your 12-year-old to Kobe beef burgers. Photo Credit: Jennifer Rowsom