A Japanese chef from Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture made it a personal mission to revive people’s confidence in the area’s produce. Flying to France, one of the world’s culinary hubs, he brought with him ingredients from the prefecture as well as certificates that guarantee their safety.
Harutomo Hagi used to own a restaurant around 30 km from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Even though unaffected of the nuclear meltdown following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, people stopped coming. People also fear that everything that bears the name of Fukushima is contaminated with radiation. “Even when they smiled the farmers were sad,” said Hagi, referring to how prices of produce from Fukushima have been cut up to half before the meltdown.
The 37-year old chef was able to fly to Europe when he was invited by the exclusive Club des Chefs des Chefs, whose members include chefs for the heads of state. He spent a fortnight at the Elysee Palace in Paris, the official residence of the President of France, with the Palais Princier (The Prince’s Palace) in Monaco as his next stop. Hagi was also given the opportunity to serve Japanese food to French President Francois Hollande and Prince Albert of Monaco, respectively. However, the ingredients he used were European produce. Hagi was also given the privilege to cook with Mandarin Oriental head chef Thierry Marx at Sur Mesure. Gilles Bragard, founder of the Club des Chefs des Chefs, believes that Hagi is an “ambassador for the products of Fukushima.”
“I was very moved to come to France with this chicken,” Hagi said of the poultry from Fukushima, which he brought with him to Europe. He also brought wasabi and fruits like baby peaches, which he described as “tiny and sweet.” According to Bragard, “If the French eat these products, the Japanese can regain confidence and buy them again.” He also believes that having Hagi in Paris would encourage farmers and restaurateurs in Fukushima. One of them was Hagi himself, who admitted feeling “reinvigorated,” adding that all the chefs he met while in Europe gave him the courage to continue. “We must motivate people to continue reconstructing Fukushima,” Hagi said.