“We believe that we should look at things from a bigger perspective, then think and act as if it were about us.”
I’ve eaten a variety of food while hiking all over the world. Kendal Mint Cake in the British Lake District, full course meals washed down with wine deep in the Italian Alps, curry cooked atop open fires in the Himalayas to the ubiquitous Cup Noodles in mountain lodges here in Japan. It wasn’t until I visited Yuka & Kosuke Yamato at ‘DILL eat,life.’ that I found my favourite and now goto trail-food; The Small Twist Trailfoods. This is my journey to discover what goes into the most delicious trail-food I’ve ever eaten.
I first met Yuka & Kosuke Yamato in 2019 at their wonderful home and restaurant in Yamanashi Prefecture. But to tell this story we must first travel back further to 2012, joining them in California, hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT).
It was on this 350km hike from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney, the seeds for a new life-style and food-style were organically sown.
As a chief & food researcher specialized in outdoor cooking, Yuka’s approach to cooking along the trail was somewhat unconventional. Preparing meals as close to their natural diet as possible, cooking raw vegetables and rice with other additive-free, freeze-dried ingredients.
You should know, there are only a handful of supply stores along the JMT, none selling fresh produce. Labouring to carry everything they needed in their packs they made their way along the trail, falling into the routine of cooking fresh meals each morning and evening at the campsite. Lunch usually consisted of familiar calorie dense, readymade action foods and bars. There is only so much you can carry, so when their action food began to run out, they had a creative new idea.
Yuka saved a few of their evening dinner ingredients, making an —action food— bento for the next day, including couscous omelettes, pancakes, and onigiri (rice balls). Surprising the American long-distance hikers, who “rolled their eyes in amazement”.
In this way, Yuka & Kosuke were initiated into American DIY cooking culture. Rehydrating in hot water the dried food they had previously prepared at home, while sharing stories with their fellow hikers around the campfire at the end of a hard day’s hike.
“Talking and cooking with others is one of the joys of outdoor life.”
On returning to Japan they packed up their admittedly stressful life in Tokyo, relocating to the southern foothills of the Japanese Southern Alps. Here on a plot of family land with a view of Mount Fuji, they self-built their new home and restaurant called DILL eat,life.
I visited them on a sunny March afternoon, eager to taste Yuka’s cooking and talk about everything food and their active outdoor lifestyle. In particular I was curious to know more about their new trail-food project combining both.
For those of you unfamiliar with trail-food, it is typically small packs of freeze-dried food, usually rice or pasta with some kind of sauce. Just add hot water for an instant meal. Yes, convenient, but let’s be honest, most of these commercially available meals taste okay at best, many containing questionable ingredients from unknown sources.
Having carried the idea of making restaurant-quality trail-food since their time cooking on the JMT. These mass produced options simply didn’t live up to their idea of what trail-food is or could be. They imagined easy to carry and cook nutritionally rich additive-free meals that naturally tasted good.
Things didn’t start moving forward until some years later, after sharing this idea with their longtime friend Mayuko Shimizu. Soon after, the three of them set about the challenge of making a new healthy trail-food prepared using mostly organic local seasonal ingredients. The result being The Small Twist Trailfoods. A series of handmade additive-free dehydrated meals, developed from their favourite home cooked dishes.
On days when they’re not serving customers or preparing The Small Twist Trailfoods, you can find Yuka and Kosuke in the mountains. Backcountry skiing and snowboarding in winter or on multi-pitch climbs in warmer months. Always with a Small Twist Trailfoods in their packs, the perfect excuse to slow down, cook and enjoy the sense of altitude and accomplishment.
You are what you eat.
Each conversation we have, I learn something new and usually it isn’t long before someone says “You are what you eat”. Yuka explains further; our bodies are made from the food we eat. Yet our health is not solely reliant on this, but dependent on nature’s whole ecosystem. One of the three macrobiotic principles is ‘body, soil & mind’. This means that we shouldn’t consider our bodies separate from the land where we live. They are intrinsically and reciprocally linked. By eating the crops (and animals) that are available seasonally and locally, our bodies and minds will be nourished throughout the year. Vegetables in season grow well and healthy without the use of unnecessary agrochemicals.
We must also consider the health of the people who grow our produce and the soil and land where it is grown. All are connected, the farmers, animals, insects, plants and microorganisms who live on and in the soil as well as the groundwater, rivers and oceans.
“We believe that we should look at things from a bigger perspective and think and act as if it were about us.”
Not only the careful selection and preparation of fresh ingredients, but this holistic view of nature and food goes into their cooking. Their altruistic enthusiasm for all things outdoors and all things food is infectious. This can be tasted in every meal they prepare at DILL or in every packet of The Small Twist Trailfoods you prepare on the trail. Doing what they can not only for their customers and society at large, but for the environment and the planet as a whole. “It is not about what we do specifically, but about doing the best we can at any given moment.”
Finally I asked for their thoughts on success? “Success to us is to be able to do our best in the moment and feel happy about the little things.”
I, for one, am happy for the little things called The Small Twist Trailfoods and honoured to call Yuka & Kosuke my friends. Writing this story, I realised that it’s been far too long since I last visited them. Yet every time I cook a Small Twist lunch, I feel connected to them, the farmers and the soil.
…and so it goes.
Photographs courtesy of Kosuke Yamato – © Copyright Kosuke Yamato 2022 or James Gibson – © Copyright James Gibson.
Find Yuka & Kosuke Yamato
Homepage: dilleatlife.com or smalltwist.theshop.jp
Find James Gibson