Chef Sasaki’s Pizza Oven

2013.08.10 pizza oven01

Hiroshi Sasaki is the chef and owner of Gion Sasaki, an immensely popular Michelin 2-star kappō (counter style) restaurant down the slope from the Yasaka Pagoda, in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto. The restaurant is approached by a narrow laneway off the street, then up some stairs and around another bend to enter the restaurant itself. The decor is very minimalist and traditionally elegant, which makes the sight of a bricked pizza oven in the centre of the wall opposite the 16-seat mahogany counter seem to be jarringly incongruous at first sight. Sasaki-sensei says, “In 2006, this was the third time we’d moved, so I wanted the pizza oven to be something iconic in the new restaurant.” He wanted to create something unique that would stretch people’s perceptions about traditional Japanese cuisine in Kyoto and raise their expectations about the new restaurant. It is typical of Sasaki-sensei to keep pushing the boundaries.

But the chef’s main reason for installing the pizza oven was because of its heating potential. “The most I can get from a regular oven is about 300°, but with the pizza oven I can get close to 800°.” It seems that being able to utilise such extreme heat opens up new potential for creating innovative Japanese dishes. “I’ve tried cooking vegetables, meat, fish – all kinds of ingredients – to see what could be done with this oven,” he said. One advantage is that the heat comes from all sides and so there is no time wasted in turning things over like you would normally do with a grill. “The heat is applied very quickly so that the food stays fresher. For example, when I use the oven for cooking eel, the skin is really crispy and the flesh remains soft and moist. I even tried putting lettuce in there for 45 seconds and adding just a sprinkle of salt and olive oil and it was surprisingly delicious!”

“I generally keep the temperature at around 480°. It heats up to that temperature quickly and it’s easy to maintain that temperature, which is a characteristic of a gas oven, but I don’t think this would be possible with an electric pizza oven. And none of the heat is wasted: When I turn off the gas at the end of the day, and put in some potatoes, they are baked but still moist the next morning.” As we can see, mastering the pizza oven has created a great asset for Chef Sasaki!

Source: Interview with Chef Sasaki

Here is a humorous entry from a food forum about trying to get a reservation at Gion Sasaki:

It is unbelievably difficult to get a reservation at Gion Sasaki in Kyoto. This is the conversation when I called to make a reservation…

A: Hello. I’d like to make a reservation in July.
B: Of course. What day would you like to come in?
A: Do you have seating Thursday?
B: Sumimasen. No seats available that day.
A: How about Wednesday?
B: I’m sorry, all seats are taken that day as well.
A: Umm… when do you have seats that week?
B: There are no seats available the whole week.
A: So when is your next availability?
B: Next year.
A: … !!

Gion Sasaki:
Address: Yasaka-dori, Yamatooji Higashi iru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Phone: 075-551-5000
Open: Lunch 12:00 – 14:00; Dinner 18:30 – 22:00
Closed: Sundays and every 2nd Monday
Prices: Lunch set ¥5,500; Dinner set ¥18,900 – 23,000 (Service charge 10%)

2 Comments on “Chef Sasaki’s Pizza Oven”

  1. Sissi says:

    I knew the Japanese chefs are able to make miracles with any recipe in the world. Making a good pizza is not as easy as some people think, even if a restaurant owns a good oven. It’s the only Italian dish I ever eat out because the only I cannot make even similar to the excellent, thin delight that my favourite pizzeria serves. The conversation is hilarious indeed but it proves how that Japanese clients are huge gourmets. I wish I could taste this piece of art one day.

    • Cate Pearce says:

      I would love to go to this restaurant too, but it seems almost like you need to be a member of an elite club to get in! I got the impression from the rest of the article, which I haven’t translated here in full, that Sasaki-sensei doesn’t actually use the pizza oven to make pizza, but is experimenting a great deal with creating new Japanese gourmet delights using the much higher temperatures than any regular Japanese oven has been able to provide. It would be interesting to see what he comes up with.

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