The Two Partners Supplying America with Artisanal Japanese Ingredients
Greg Dunmore and Chris Bonomo, aka The Japanese Pantry, offer an exceptional selection of ingredients that share Japanese culinary heritage.
Yamaki Jozo © The Japanese Pantry
It’s not common to encounter a chef in the United States who knows about the richness and variety of flavours of rice vinegar. Greg Dunmore does, however, and the reputation of his izakaya-style restaurant, Nojo, in San Francisco has attracted a number of connoisseurs of quality Japanese ingredients. His yakitori were what appealed to Chris Bonomo, who formerly worked in finance and is passionate about Japanese cuisine. Brought together by a shared quest for quality ingredients, the pair decided to join forces to fill American cupboards with Japanese products as part of The Japanese Pantry.
Initially aimed at American chefs, their business is built upon education. ‘Everyone already has soy sauce or rice vinegar in their kitchen’, Greg Dunmore explains. ‘But just as quality Italian products weren’t accessible twenty years ago and nobody was familiar with the different varieties of risotto, we want to show people that there are other ranges of Japanese ingredients than those already widely available in supermarkets.’
Artisanal products with production methods sometimes dating back hundreds of years
Thus, the partners hold one-hour tasting sessions with chefs to show them the quality and unique character of the ingredients they have painstakingly selected. The price might seem high, but considering their artisanal production method, these are exceptional products. One such example is Mitsuboshi soy sauce from manufacturer Horikawaya Nomura, whose production techniques have gone unchanged for 300 years. The wheat it contains is still grilled over a wood fire, which also heats the room where the koji ferments.
The close links between the two associates and small Japanese manufacturers are what make The Japanese Pantry what it is. Behind this project lies an encounter, namely between Greg Dunmore and Takehiro Wada, manager of Wadaman, a family business that dates back over 100 years from the Osaka region, known for its sesame-based products including a renowned black sesame paste that Greg immediately wanted to import into the USA.
When he launched The Japanese Pantry with Chris Bonomo in December 2015, Takehiro Wada introduced them to other Japanese manufacturers. In spring 2016, the two associates received their first shipment from three companies. They now have around twenty suppliers, all of whom they visited to convince them to share their exceptional products with the American market.
Ingredients that can be used outside of Japanese dishes
‘We’re their representatives here in the US, so we have a duty to understand their history and their products’, Chris Bonomo states. This is especially true because some ingredients can be incorporated into recipes that are far removed from their original use. For example, Suehiro Shoyu’s double fermented soy sauce has a concentrated flavour that makes it ideal to go with sashimi. Surprisingly, its roundness on the palate and sweetness make it an original ice cream flavour, with a taste not unlike that of salted caramel. The recipe can be found on The Japanese Pantry’s website.
Wadaman’s black sesame paste is used by restaurants to make baba ganoush or lattes. ‘Our target market isn’t Japanese chefs, but rather American chefs who want to have more options available to add to their toolbox of flavours’, Chris Bonomo continues.
The pair were already selling their products online before COVID-19, but the pandemic saw a surge of demand from the general public.
‘Japanese gastronomy is very clear and subtle in such a way that you can taste a particular ingredient that the other components are showcasing. In Japan, you have to relax and slow down in order to truly appreciate the complexity of the cuisine. You need to pay attention in order to identify what the chef is trying to get you to taste’, Chris Bonomo concludes.
Thanks to The Japanese Pantry, American chefs now have access to quality ingredients that enable them to add a dash of umami to their dishes. The two associates intend to continue their mission by offering artisanal, premium cooking utensils to add an even greater sense of elegance.
More information about The Japanese Pantry can be found on the company’s website. More details about restaurants and retailers that use Japanese products around the world can be found on the website for the Taste of Japan platform.
Double fermented soy sauce from Suehiro Shoyu © The Japanese Pantry
Ice cream made from double fermented soy sauce by Suehiro Shoyu © The Japanese Pantry
Mitsuboshi soy sauce from Horikawaya Nomura © The Japanese Pantry
Nomura-san from Horikawaya Nomura showing his ‘koji’ room © The Japanese Pantry
Black sesame paste from Wadaman © The Japanese Pantry
Takehiro Wada from Wadaman and Greg Dunmore © The Japanese Pantry
Chris Bonomo and Greg Dunmore in front of a mustard field © The Japanese Pantry
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