Japanese Restaurant Servers Compost To Adventurous Diners

12:10 PM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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Tokyo, Japan -- French-style seafood used to be the big seller for this restaurant in central Tokyo.

Now chef Toshio Tanabe has a dirty secret.

For the past three weeks he's been cooking up soil, and feeding it to his customers in a six-course meal.

"Man didn't create the sea, the air or the soil. They're simply all part of nature, and in a sense they are alive in their own right. What I'm trying to do is reflect that feeling in food," Tanabe told Reuters on Friday.

In his younger days Tanabe was a professional Bantam-weight boxer, but in his mid-twenties he turned his hands to cooking and left to train in France.

He's run the 'Ne Quittez Pas' (Don't Leave) French restaurant in central Tokyo for nearly 20 years, and over the last eight he's been slowly introducing his customers to soil-inspired cuisine.

But at least at first, the search for a clean and chemical-free ingredient was tough work.

"I had to go all over the place to find soil, into the mountains and places like that. They had to be areas where there was no farming. Then of course I had to dig up soil from deep under the ground," Tanabe said.

Now Tanabe sources his compost through a Tokyo-based supplier which delivers about a kilo of dirt a day, pre-checked for harmful substances. Previously, he'd only been able to serve the occasional dish or two.

After the dirt arrives, Tanabe lightly cooks it to release the flavor, before running it through a sieve to remove any stray grains of sand.

The six-course extravaganza starts with an amuse bouche of soil soup -- served with a flake of dirt-engrained truffle -- and ends with a soil sorbet and a sweet dirt gratin.

But Tanabe's pride-and-joy is the 'soil surprise', a dirt-covered potato ball with a truffle center.

So far he says customers have taken to his brand of dirty dining.

"It was my first time to have soup made from soil - it was a bit gritty but not at all unpleasant. It was a bit like vegetable soup, I really enjoyed it," local resident Hiromi Fujie said.

And if Tanabe is to believed, it's healthy too. He says his soil aids the digestion and is full of healthy minerals.

But not all customers are convinced.

"Humans used to eat soil, back in the day. But then again, animals did as well, so I suppose there's this impression that soil's a bit too dirty to eat. We do have some customers who completely avoid it," Tanabe said.

A six-course dirt meal costs $107 per person.


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