The Gastronomic Bond Between Japan and Brittany
At first sight, Brittany and Japan might not appear to have a great deal in common. However, if you dig a little way below the surface, it becomes clear that the connections between the Japanese archipelago and the French peninsula are far more significant than first thought. Indeed, Japan and Brittany are very closely linked. ‘Brittany and Japan have discreet but strong links. Every year, the Regional Council of Brittany travels to Japan’, explains Nicolas Bonnardel, General Manager of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan. ‘Out of 400 French companies found in Japan, around twenty come from Brittany’, he continues.
The enduring connections can be seen particularly in the culinary domain. ‘Breton products are popular exports in Japan’, explains François-Xavier Colas, CEO of French B&B, a company which exports gastronomic products to Japan. ‘We export 90% of French products to Japanese soil. There are several big successes, such as galettes, but also Bordier butter and cider’.
Regions united by the same ingredients
But why is Japan so attractive to Bretons? ‘Bretons have a particular regional attachment, while also having the desire to discover new worlds. It’s in our Breizh DNA!’ reveals François-Xavier Colas, who hails from Saint Brieuc. ‘The Breton diaspora is very dynamic, particularly in Japan’.
The best ambassador for the Bretons settled in Japan is perhaps Bertrand Larcher, founder of Breizh café, a chain of high-end restaurants now extending well beyond the westernmost region of France, with branches in Paris and no fewer than nine in Japan. ‘In Japan, I discovered an ancient culture of buckwheat – soba, in the form of noodles – and I realised that there was no Breton creperie’, explains Bertrand Larcher. ‘So my aim for my restaurants was to let people enjoy buckwheat my way, accompanied by cider, potatoes, pork and butter: a real challenge!’
A culture of seafood products
This former student of the Ecole Hotelier in Dinard also pursued these Franco-Japanese relations in France by handing over the reins for La Table Breizh Café, a Japanese gourmet restaurant in Cancale, to chef Fumio Kudaka. ‘Here, the chef uses local products and adds Japanese techniques and ingredients to combine both France and Japan’, declares Bertrand Larcher. ‘The sea is close by, and seafood products constitute a large part of the residents’ diet, just as they do in Brittany. In fact, I try to bring these two very similar but different cultures to the table’. This recipe seems to work, because the duo received a prestigious Michelin star three years after the restaurant opened.
David Moreul is another proud representative for Brittany in Japan. After learning the ropes at Breizh Café, he opened his own restaurant, Maison Bretonne, in the heart of Shibuya district. ‘I opened my own 24-seat creperie in Shibuya in 2008. I wanted to offer a different kind of galette, Kraz galettes, which are thin and crispy and found in Finistère and Morbihan’. But the chef didn’t stop there, and took another step to further establish Brittany in Japan in 2010 when he opened a crepe-making school in the largest city in the world. ‘My wife and I noticed that Japanese people wanted to make these galettes themselves and asked us how to do it. So we looked into it and opened this school, where we essentially train women aged 40-50 who are wanting to change career, or men in their sixties who are wanting to find an activity to do in their retirement’.
It’s therefore clear that Brittany hasn’t finished conquering Japan just yet.
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