Photos: Noriko Carlow
Akihiro Kakimoto is an exceptional and unique pastry chef in Japan, who ranked fourth in the World Chocolate Master 2018. The Assemblage Kakimoto is the headquarter of his creation, which was established in 2016 and sells a range of distinctive cakes containing different layers of flavors, and wedge-shaped bonbons. For a few days a week, it turns into a restaurant after 6 pm. It is the moment that pâtissier Kakimoto becomes cuisinier Kakimoto. In so good #24 we prepared a special piece of this place alongside some of his signature creations.
Born in Kyoto, Japan, he started his career at a regional hotel to be trained as a cook. Even after his interest shifted to the pastry world and after becoming a pastry chef at a restaurant, he helped fellow cooks to clean fish or picking herbs. Consequently, he began to love cooking and pastry-making equally and to play a role as a pâtissier during the day and as a cuisinier at night.
‘Bringing out the flavors of ingredients is the most important thing to me. It’s much easier in the restaurant because I can serve freshly cooked dishes to our guests. But pastry is different. I don’t know when the customers will finally eat my cakes after their purchase. I have to make them maintain the flavors for as long as possible,’ said Kakimoto. However, he doesn’t like to use flavoring agents. He wants to stick to natural flavors of ingredients. What he does is using the primal ingredient to the maximum. ‘For instance, when I want to emphasize the strawberry flavor in a cake, I use as many strawberries as the recipe can take, and if the flavor is not intense enough, combining other ingredients to enhance the flavor is my way. For strawberry, both lemon zest and passion fruit work very well.’
‘In order to bring out and enhance a certain flavor, I combine three flavors, at least. Two flavors make dishes or cakes tasty enough, but I want to add one more ingredient to make customers say, ‘wow! What is it?’
He is best at combining. The name of his establishment, ‘Assemblage’, means ‘mixing’ or ‘combining’ in French. ‘In order to bring out and enhance a certain flavor, I combine three flavors, at least. Two flavors make dishes or cakes tasty enough, but I want to add one more ingredient to make customers say, ‘wow! What is it?’.’ The first flavor is more intense and gives an impact. A milder flavor follows to bridge between the first and the third flavors. The third flavor is something capturing people’s sense of smell. ‘I try to make each flavor stand out before being mixed completely in the mouth.’
How does he come up with new combinations of ingredients? ‘I always think of tasty food and try to match interesting ingredients in my mind. The other day, I came up with an idea when I was eating cinnamon toast. I was like, how about combining cutlassfish with cinnamon toast? Is it such a wild idea? No, it’s not. I love to eat and cook fish. I know very much about fish. I changed cutlassfish to eel in the last minutes and made this unique dish. Eel always calls for Japanese pepper called sansho (traditional grilled eel in a sweet-salty sauce is always served with sansho), and its refreshing, cool flavor reminds me of cinnamon and clove. So, I wrapped a grilled eel in a slice of bread, deep-fried it in olive oil, and sprinkled with cinnamon and clove powder.’ It’s natural for him to use vegetables and herbs in pastry and fruits and nuts in fish dishes. There are no rules for him when combining ingredients.
‘I always think of tasty food and try to match interesting ingredients in my mind.’
Another important thing for him is making Japanese-style pastries, not imitating European counterparts. It’s obvious when you see his range of bonbons. He unveils the recipe of a bonbon called Hybrid for us, consisting of sansho-flavored caramel, fresher-than-fresh-strawberry jelly and strawberry ganache. Flavors of his other bonbons vary from myoga (pungent Japanese ginger) and ginger to shiso.
In May 2019, one of his dreams came true. He opened a dessert restaurant called Hanare (i.e., annex). Kyoto has many small restaurants offering home cooking called “obanzai” in the Kyoto dialect. Customers can select their favorites out of dishes of obanzai on the counter. That’s the system he brought into the Hanare, and he arranges 15 different pastries on the counter, including bonbons, sablé, or pound cakes. Customers enjoy a plate of dessert as ‘an appetizer’ while choosing their four pastries. ‘The next goal may be to open a curry rice restaurant. My customers in the restaurant ask me to do so because they say my curry rice with pineapple and banana is so good,’ he said with a laugh. Since curry rice is considered a national dish in Japan as ramen is, the savory challenge of the pâtissier-cuisinier should be much awaited to come true.