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Noodling around Japan

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Melissa Craig laughs at an image taken from her trip to Japan earlier this month.

The Bearfoot Bistro executive chef points out two batches of ramen noodles. The thin, orderly noodles are made by a Japanese master, the more robust noodles were Craig’s attempt at Japanese cooking — not bad when you consider her sensei spent the last 35 years perfecting his craft. Thirty-five years of magically rolling round dough into a perfect square in one skillful push of his rolling pin. Thirty-five years of cutting perfectly symmetrical, and same-thickness noodles at the speed of which they are later slurped up.

In Japan, culinary masters specialize in one art of Japanese cooking, however Craig carries on her specialization of adopting the new in her Whistler kitchen.

The art of ramen noodles was only one of many adventures over her two-week tour of three Listel Hotel kitchens in Japan, the host company of the Bearfoot Bistro.

A ramen knife now adorns her kitchen collection, along with cooking chopsticks, tuna knives and other gifts bestowed by her Japanese hosts in Inawashiro, Hamanako and Shinjuku.

The young female chef flew to celebrity status once jetting over Canadian borders and hitting the streets of Tokyo in a chauffer-driven Rolls Royce. A female executive chef in Japan is as rare as finding French cuisine in a land of cherry trees. The Canadian ambassador spoke at cooking schools, hosted a media dinner and both taught and took instruction from Japan’s finest chefs.

Her hosts tried to make their Canadian guest feel as at home as possible by cooking the French cuisine most fine dining establishments are accustomed to, but Craig wanted the full Japanese experience, even if it meant eating the slimiest of noodles for breakfast and the breast bone of a chicken for lunch.

“It was on top of a skewer of chicken; it looked like an onion,” she says, laughing again.

Craig was in high spirits when we sat down to talk about her trip before dinner service at the Bearfoot Bistro on Friday evening. A new environment refreshed her spirits and her new knowledge will soon refresh the Bearfoot Bistro menu, slated for a makeover next week.

From learning how to skin a live eel with one swoop of her knife to shaping Japanese desserts based in beans and sugar, Craig will gingerly work her Japanese travels into the French-based Bearfoot Bistro cuisine.

Not that Craig was ever afraid to experiment and push the line. Her foie gras fascination has shapeshifted into everything from a foie gras mousse ice-cream-like cone to a breakfast-inspired dish with foie gras, pancakes and bacon vinaigrette as a dinner appetizer.

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