Premium Chefs of Kumamoto

Premium Chefs of Kumamoto

Culinary experts craft marvelous meals from the prefecture’s ingredients.

Every March, farmers burn the grass­­lands on the slopes of Mount Aso, leaving a charred blanket across the undulating land­­scape.

As spring arrives, green grass emerges from the black earth, a lush crop for the herds of horses and cattle grazing the pastures on Japan’s largest active volcano. Snowmelt filters through volcanic rock and nutrient-rich soil to feed the Shirakawa River, irrigating farms, fields and gardens before winding its way out to sea. With Aso at its heart, Kumamoto produces a buffet of quality meat, fish and vegetables.

Across the region, top-flight chefs are capitalizing on this natural bounty, using local ingredients to create signature dishes. Through the Premium Chefs of Kumamoto project, some of the area’s best restaurants and accommoda­tions offer uniquely intimate dining experiences. From food to table­ware, each element emphasizes this land’s richness, flavor and wild beauty.

Yamagoya Holahoo is an auberge-style lodge on the edge of the Aso highlands, a 20-minute drive from the smoking caldera of Mount Aso. Visitors explore the area by day, then sip wine while chef and owner Teppei Oyama works his magic in the open kitchen. Dinner begins with hors d’oeuvres, including horse tartare on organic tomato tuile, served on a volcanic stone platter. Trout and water­cress, followed by a bowl of venison consommé, round out the appe­­tizer portion of the meal. Diners gather around the stone-arched opening to the kitchen, watching as Oyama grills thick cuts of venison and akaushi (Japanese Brown or “Emperor’s Breed” cattle) on the wood fire. He pairs the meat with fermented black garlic and red wine venison sauces, serving it along­side sautéed sweet potato. Dessert includes mignardise, homemade ice cream with frozen sake lees and hand drip coffee.

A two-hour drive south, Keiryu Villa Itsuki sits in a deep gorge on the banks of the Kawabe River. Guests stay in quiet villas that include a Jacuzzi, a luxurious living space and a wood-pellet stove for cold nights. There are bike rentals, bungee jumping, and kayaking tours for the adventurous. Keiryu Grill Myojin centers its cooking on Dutch ovens for a flavorful, rustic touch. The wagyu beef shank with agrodolce practically falls apart with the touch of a fork. In warm weather, dinner may be served on the patio overlooking the river. Breakfast is a hearty spread designed to fuel a day of mountain adventures.

Image: Yamagoya Holahoo

Kenshin Miyamoto is the chef and owner of antica locanda Miyamoto in Kumamoto City. This gem is located in a quiet, riverside neighborhood that was once home to samurai. Miyamoto’s great-grandfather owned a butcher shop, and the chef now raises cattle on Mount Aso. At antica locanda, Miyamoto takes charge of everything, from aging the beef to curing the prosciutto, mortadella and beef salami. At the wood grill, he rubs sea salt into thick steaks before plunging them into the open flame. The dripping chunks of akaushi are served with a house condiment of fermented garlic, parsley and komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach).

The Premium Chefs project brings well-deserved attention to the region’s culinary crafts and natural beauty. With a wide selection of world-class accommodations and restaurants, visitors can savor the best of Kumamoto.

For more information on Kumamoto Prefecture‘s premium projects, visit: Premium chefs of Kumamoto

Top Image: antica locanda Miyamoto

Words & images: Ben Weller

March 2023