Frozen water. The leaf of a radish. Glutinous rice balls. The head of a fish that you eat with your hands. And even the moon on the plate and fireflies flying around the restaurant. If this can be called a restaurant. Mibu is more of a sanctuary, tiny, yes, tucked away in a nondescript apartment block in the Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo, that too, and with an entrance that looks more like an underground parking garage in the center of the city than that of a one of the most revered temples of world gastronomy. The Ishida couple —Hiroyoshi and his wife Tomiko— do not cook: they officiate in those four walls every day for eight diners. You will not be among them, unless you are a “member” of Mibu, a guest of a member or a special guest of the Ishida who, for some strange reason, has found a place in this beyond of haute cuisine that does not have any Michelin star or prestigious decoration that resembles it.
ishida Saint he gets up at four in the morning and goes to the market to buy the stuff. Then he spends the day officiating in a kitchen that is like a student apartment and in which he and his assistants, barely four of them, move without bumping into each other in the same miraculous and inexplicable way that ants do not bump into each other in a anthill. At the end of the day, he and his wife go to a temple to meditate. For them cooking is nothing more —and nothing less— than an extension of their spiritual life.
Mr. Ishida and Mrs. Ishida have spent a whole week in San Sebastián, he dressed as a gentleman of the beginning of the century (XX) and she walking her spectacular traditional kimonos through the streets. They are 81 and 80 years old, respectively, and they didn’t care if they beat themselves up as long as, first, they had lunch at the Gaztelubide gastronomic society and dinner at Mugaritz and Arzak; and in order, secondly, to attend the world premiere of Mibu. the moon on a platethe film in which the Barcelona actor and director Roger Zanuy recounts the day-to-day life of this gastronomic space halfway between Zen Buddhism and the cult of nature.
The documentary was screened within the Culinary Zinema section, one of the most curious —and certainly tastiest— segments of the San Sebastian Film Festival, thanks to the collaboration between the event itself and the Basque Culinary Center, a pioneering center worldwide that brings together the Faculty of Gastronomic Sciences and the Research and Innovation Center and in which 400 students from the five continents are currently studying. Every night, after the premiere, a dinner puts the gastronomic climax to the cinematographic day.
We were with the Ishida in Donosti. They are from another planet, even though their planet is on this one. A planet, by the way, whose defense they claim because, they say, “if we don’t do it now, it will be too late, because human beings are making serious mistakes and offending nature.” For them, less is more and discarding is a higher art than adding and even piling up. That is why their dishes make minimalism as a concept outdated and outdated, in what is a daily fight for the conquest of simplicity… “One of the most complex things in life”, they maintain.
They never travel alone, and neither have they done so on their journey through San Sebastián. They have been accompanied by several of their partner-clients, some of their disciple cooks, owners of other restaurants in Japan, and some of the apprentices and helpers who now work at Mibu. When you ask them if—with all due respect—they’re not some kind of good cult, both Hiroyoshi and Tomiko burst into laughter like runaway teenagers upon hearing the words of their translator these days, the extraordinary Akiko, and in the end they concede that yes, they are a bit of a sect.
So all his faithful went up last Monday night to the Basque Culinary Center in the Aiete neighborhood, where the Barcelona chef Albert Raurich, owner and chef of the Dos Palillos restaurant in Barcelona and formerly of elBulli, served an extraordinary menu with some of his best creations in homage to his admired Ishida.
This Tuesday, the Culinary Zinema went to the other corner of the world and entered the gastronomic world of La Huella, the restaurant located on Playa Brava, in the Uruguayan town of José Ignacio, department of Maldonado, run by Martín Pittaluga, Gustavo Barbero and Guzman Artagaveytia. A beach parador (sort of a beach bar, but in a very sophisticated version) that not a few voices in the gastronomic world consider the best dining room by the sea in the world. With the grill as a religion, although not only, sweetbreads, crabs, mussels come from there — “the best on the planet and there is no debate there, I’m sorry,” says Artagaveytia with a glass of Uruguayan red wine in his hands —, entrails, sea bass , dulce de leche volcanoes and an endless etcetera. Before the explosion of success of La Huella, about 15 years ago, he and his partners lived through an intense debate about whether their beach joint should cater more to the idiosyncrasies of the popular or the elite. In the end there was no debate and La Huella being what it is today, a totum revolutum high-quality gastronomy, joyful chaos and incessant queues at their tables. Director Alessio Rigo de Righi tells everything in great detail in The footprint. History of a beach inn, also screened in the Culinary Zinema section of the San Sebastian Festival. The subsequent dinner, upstairs, at the Basque Culinary Center, was a party with smoke, music, cocktails and dishes brimming with Uruguayan essence.
Tokyo-San Sebastián-Playa Brava. Around the world in 80 dishes by the hand of cinema and gastronomy.
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