We celebrated JB’s birthday today orchestrated by IB. We started out with breakfast at Sawada. I had a matcha green tea latte with a shot of espresso (known as the “military”). Hiroshi Sawada is a Japanese barrista and latte artist, who won the 2008 Free Latte Pour championship. His coffee shop is a funky west downtown venue attached to a barbecue restaurant with a ramen shop downstairs.
Then we went to the Art Institute to explore the Asian wing including Kyoko Ibe’s piece, Galaxy (pictured below). Kyoko Ibe (here, here, and here) was a mentor of IB’s, a renowned paper maker in Japan. This is one of the many pieces she created in response to the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear disaster using old books, magazines, and her father’s old notebooks to make the paper.
We went to the Sumi Robata grill for lunch. Japanese Robatayaki is an ancient cooking method used by Japanese fishermen around the communal hearth or irori. Four years ago in Japan, when we visited IB who was teaching in Satsuma-Sendai, we went to climb Blue Mountain where we serendipitously met a couple of retired farmers who were cooking Japanese sweet potato and mochi over a robata-type grill. They invited us to share in their treats accompanied with cups of hot green tea. We told this story to the chef’s wife who happened to be seated near the grill and moments later Chef Gene Kato sent mochi to our table. Not only was the food incredibly delicious, including the amazing smoky miso soup, but we also learned that sumi, the word used for asian ink, actually means charcoal or soot, which is the name for the Japanese white oak charcoal used in this form of cooking.
As the sun set on our back porch, JB and I shared daifuku, sake, and stories.
Visually, culturally, gastronomically, and relationally, it was a wonderful way to ring in JB’s 74th year.