[FOUNTAIN]Memorial Day feastThe Japanese cooks who prepared the banquet for President Roh Moo-hyun and Emperor Akihito of Japan on Friday are civil servants of the Imperial Household Agency.
They are part of the division under the agency that is responsible for the Japanese royal family’s meals, which has a staff of about 50.
Of the 50, about 30 are cooks; they are divided into five groups according to the dishes they specialize in. The first group is responsible for Japanese cuisine, the second for Western food, the third for Japanese confectionaries, the fourth for Western confectionaries and the fifth group takes charge of meals for the crown prince.
The head chef does the menu planning every day, being careful that menus do not overlap. When there is a state visit and the guest has a banquet with the royal family, the practice is that Western food is prepared, most frequently French cuisine. Diplomatic sources say President Roh’s dinner was no exception.
Only the best quality food is used for meals for the royal family. Most of it comes from the royal family’s 2.5-square-kilometer (618-acre) farm in Takanezawa, Tochigi prefecture.
Livestock and vegetables are grown in natural conditions as far as possible. Most cows, pigs and lambs graze. Lamb is used frequently in banquets and has been highly praised. When a visit by a friendly country’s royal family is scheduled a year in advance, staffers prepare the birth of lambs in tandem with the visit. Vegetables are organic; the farmers catch worms by hand.
The cooks also give great attention to food safety and the formality of the dishes. They rarely serve a menu that has the slightest possibility of being unsafe, such as a dish made from blowfish. When they cook a whole fish, they tie its mouth so that it will not gape. Lobsters are removed from their shells and the meat served separately. Grapes are peeled one by one and seeds removed.
One anecdote has it that Crown Prince Naruhito brought home tangerines from his elementary school cafeteria because he did not know how to eat them in their natural form.
President Roh was concerned that he had a banquet with the Japanese emperor on Korea’s Memorial Day. But if that was inescapable, at least he could try to coordinate the different historical views of the two countries while enjoying the Japanese royal cuisine.
by Nahm Yoon-ho
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.