with Us
Thank you!

Sign up to our newsletter and be the first
to hear about our products, events,
stories and exclusive online features.

Kyushu's National Parks

Organic Base

Another Day in the Kitchen
listening to the voice of the vegetables



PAPERSKY No. 63 featuring Kyushu’s national parks invited cooking expert Noriko Okutsu to create an elegant sandwich with Unzen vegetables. Through the kitchen and the inherent power of the body, Ms. Okutsu has guided thousands of people to wellness. At present, she continues to communicate the importance of food rooted in the soil and the climate by selling indigenous and purebred varieties of vegetable with her husband, Chikashi, at the organic market Taneto (Chijiwa-cho, Unzen-shi, Nagasaki). Watching Ms. Okutsu handle and prepare various ingredients before our eyes, we became curious to know what went on in her mind as she cooked.

“Even now, cooking is a world of discoveries. Vegetables change overnight, and so does the human body. Past experience—is useless in a positive sense. The same pattern of cooking one would use for vegetables bought in a ‘normal’ supermarket does not work for indigenous vegetables, which have a particularly well-defined toughness, hardness, color, and taste. That’s why it’s important to cast aside your preconceptions and start fresh each time, concentrating on the ingredients before you, feeling them, and listening to them. Each ingredient is alive and has a voice.”

She says cooking is not an expression of the cook. Rather cooking she explains should be the skill of finding a way to make the ingredients happy, a way of preparing them to draw out their character, and as a result one will create a dish that tastes good and makes the body healthy. Ms. Okutsu’s approach as a cook is similar to her approach as a mother of three. Simply put, she respects the autonomy of her children.

“Cooking starts with a feeling, like ‘This is a really handsome vegetable.’ Then I ask myself, ‘What is the best way to express that quality?’ Let’s say I want to julienne a carrot. I can begin cutting the root vegetable from the top or the bottom depending on the color, luster, and texture that I want to achieve. Every ‘carrot’ is different depending on the time of year it was grown and the climate, whether it was picked in season or near the end of the season, whether or not it has been in storage, and the of course the farmer who nurtured the vegetable to harvest. All of this determines the right way to cook it and the appropriate amount. I also pay close attention to the weather, temperature, and humidity. A hot day calls for an acidic dish, and a cold day something with a strong flavor. In short, I want to make both lives happy—the person eating the dish and the ingredients being eaten. As the cook, I need to be a reliable go-between, but I shouldn’t let my ideals or ego cloud my judgement. I find the balancing act similar to parenting.”

Farming practices that put efficiency first, using too much pesticide and erasing the individuality of vegetables by growing them in cramped spaces—Ms. Okutsu doubts whether these vegetables have lived happy lives or are capable of sharing happiness with the person eating them. With a sparkle in her eye, she says her mission is to find a point where the produce, the producer, the consumer, the maker of the container, and all other players associated with food can be happy and respected. At this moment, Ms. Okutsu is spending another purposeful, cheerful day in the kitchen to communicate the importance of organic farming and seed saving, and above all, the delightful flavor of foods raised by the sun and soil of Kyushu.

Selling vegetables that smile in your stomach. Also enjoy a great veggie lunch after stocking up on natural foods from the Unzen area.
We drive full on into Kyushu’s National Parks. With each park we explore not only it’s nature but also the diverse culture and people living within them. And collaborate with these individuals (farmers, fisherman, makers) to create 5 original sandwiches representing each of the National Parks.
text | Miguel Utsunomiya photography | Masahiro 'Lai' Arai (SunTalk)