This year the Epietriz family took a summer trip to Epietriz's own farms in the Yamanashi highlands, where we enjoyed a crash course in what it means to eat good. From the months of May to October, the cool highland climate is a welcome respite from Tokyo's oppressive heat. This year's lack of rain meant fewer crops than past years, but we made it just in time for the summer harvest as the sunflowers were beginning to bloom. Below we revisit the day, reflecting on this wonderful opportunity for our Tokyo staff to visit and play in the farms where the vegetables they prepare each day are grown.
It’s humid and raining on an early midsummer morning just outside Hanzomon Station. We’re a stone’s throw away from the west moat of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Full-time chefs, bartenders, and hall staff from epietriz’s restaurants—almost thirty people in all—are gathered at Kojimachi Cafe to board a bus chartered for Kiyosato, a highland area four hours south of Tokyo. This is the where the restaurants get many of their vegetables from May through October. Epietriz head chef Aki Matsuura first proposed the journey to bring the Epietriz family closer together around the “eat good” concept and vision that drives the restaurants. “I want our employees to see where we grow the vegetables that we serve to our guests every day,” she explains.
Aboard the bus, we find a pleasant surprise: croissants and croque monsieur for breakfast, baked by the artisans at FACTORY well before sunrise. The bus ride itself is a reunion of sorts. The Epietriz family is spread out between restaurants in Kojimachi, Meguro, Ichigaya, and Asakusa, so this is one of the few times each year when everyone can gather together. Out the window, the scenery changes from high-rise to high skies as we travel further into the heart of Japan.
We unload from the bus into better weather and travel on foot, passing quaint cottages in the foothills of the southern Japanese Alps, until we reach a rolling hill with a small gazebo. There Aki and her husband Sei await our arrival with Aki’s parents Ken and Tomoko, who have chosen to spend their retirement farming in Kiyosato.
Ken has spent the past several months growing zucchini, cucumbers, green peppers, eggplants, cherry tomatoes, and a variety of green beans here, and he is eager to escort us to see the fruits of his labor. We take turns cutting zucchini from their leafy stems and pulling up turnips, while others pluck beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers from vine-wrapped trellises. In under an hour, we have an entire truckload of produce and are ready to start the barbecue.
Back at the barbecue, Aki and Sei have prepared imam bayildi, a Turkish dish of eggplant stuffed with onion, garlic, and tomatoes, simmered in olive oil and topped with yogurt. The dish, though originating a world away, perfectly embodies their “eat good” philosophy. Good food does not have to be fancy or expensive. Nor does it have to promise something ground-breaking or innovative. It is a celebration of food itself, of ingredients and the people who care enough to craft them. Food should nourish and fill you up, they say.
Aki has also prepared a refreshing fruit sangria with the best berries and fruits of summer: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and peaches—we are in fruit country, after all. Yamanashi boasts the biggest crops of grapes and peaches in Japan and and is also known for its cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and plums. Under the gazebo, young chefs from Suke6 Diner finely chop a grip of herbs, mixing them in with shucked corn for salsa-like sauces to garnish wagyu steaks and skewers on the grill.
Sei gives a short speech on eating well. He talks about the simplicity of good food in good ingredients and the hospitality of Ken and Tomoko. For most of the year—spring, summer, and fall—Ken provides many of the vegetables used at Epietriz’s restaurants. Sei proposes a toast, telling his employees what a pleasure it is to work with them and talking about the amazing growth of Epietriz and its core concepts.
But today is a time to relax. A prolific wine connoisseur and sommelier, Sei has chosen some of his favorite up-and-coming wines for the younger chefs to try. Many grab a glass and head for the lawn, where badminton, soccer, and afternoon naps ensue, while Aki and Ken prepare a hearty summer chili and seafood paella de marisco, which Aki sprinkles with the crisp romano beans we plucked from their stalks just minutes earlier.
In just 11 years, the Epietriz family has grown from just three to more than sixty people, and from one to seven restaurants. Sei and Aki continue to show that food doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy to be good. Eating good begins when we stop to appreciate the ingredients, where they’re grown, and the people who take the time to prepare them.