All gardeners are convinced that, the vegetables they grow in their vegetable garden have a flavor like no other. Your servant thought hard as iron until it tastes to those of Asafumi Yamashita. Including its spinach leaves, eaten either raw, without salt or salad dressing (for what?) on a cold February day. And there, hats off! The flavor, the crunch, the flavors of this salad improvised had something incomparable, unheard of, and, dare the word, sublime.
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“I grow vegetables to fill the stomach, but the heart of those who eat them”, and I had been warned in his soft voice, this sexagenarian smiling for many lives, now there are a couple of years ago, by pure chance, the provider of some of the greatest michelin-starred chefs of the place of Paris: Pierre Gagnaire, Sylvain Sendra, Christian Le Squer (the restaurant of the George V), Pascal Barbot (Astrance) and Laurent Delarbre (La Tour d’argent). One thing is for sure, Asafumi Yamashita does not have to pay the words.
“I grow vegetables to fill the stomach, but the heart of those who eat them”
Former boxer (he was French university champion in the late 1970s) and golfer, semi-pro, fond of music, painting and ikebana, he settled in 1989, with his wife Naomi and his daughters, in the village of Chapet, near les Mureaux (Yvelines), where it is grown, on several thousand square meters, bonsai, of which he rented the most beautiful specimens of japanese restaurants.
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But one night, when the thieves he stole the bulk of his collection, while rocking. “At a time when, desperate, I was considering to give up my nursery, the head of one of these restaurants has offered me to grow vegetables japanese that are not available in Paris. I do not forgive never to those who stole my bonsai, but, without this mishap, the farm Yamashita would never have seen the light of day,” he said in No do, the man who listens to vegetables , the beautiful book he published in 2016 by Actes Sud.
The toe of the plants of eggplant. Alexander PETZOLD
Armed with an old hoe that he found in his garage, it starts, more than 40 years, her new life as a farmer, without the knowledge or prior experience. “I learned everything by myself, trial and error, without trying to apply the theories that we read about in the books. Otherwise, we only copy on the other. And the copy is always less good than the original, because each garden is different.” His is not necessarily spoiled by the nature. The soil, exposed to the north, is steep, stony and clayey. He manages, however, to get the best. “It’s like when we love someone, we take it as it is without trying to change its character,” says the one who brings the manure to his land “to thank”.
The seeds that he brought back from Japan sit down and very quickly his reputation. Whether it’s the delicate carrot from Kyoto, cabbage, komatsuma to the look of spinach and, especially, the turnip kabu at the root spherical immaculate, these vegetables unknown in France are a disgrace. “His turnip kabu is exceptional, almost a candy!” raves Pierre Gagnaire, who purchases from him since the beginning. So far, Asafumi Yamashita does not simply play this card. Among the fifty plants which he cultivates are also featured classics: tomato, eggplant, peas, cucumber, cauliflower, the quality of which is, again, exceptional. “I have a lot of respect for this fascinating man, of a great purity in his approach,” says Pierre Gagnaire. I do my recipes based on what it brings me, whatever the price.”
“His turnip kabu is exceptional, almost a candy !”
The success of Asafumi Yamashita, who admits to having “in his head the menu, the philosophy, and the fantasies” of each of these cooks of genius, is, without doubt, in his amazing ability to give meaning to every minute of his life as a gardener. “There is a chain between the product, the one who cooks and one who eats,” he says. When I separate myself from my vegetables, I equated this act to the departure of one of my daughters for her wedding. I sow seeds, I’m growing by ensuring that nothing disrupts their growth, I can protect them from diseases, and then I picked at the moment they are at their maximum potential. Each plant, like each child, is different. Some are more precocious than others, it is necessary to know to wait the right time before you entrust them with love, to those to whom they are intended.”
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Adept of a “farming gently’, but not an organic one for all (“a vegetable patient does not taste good”), he cultivates only its 3 500 m2 of planting. His wife just help for the harvest. Naomi kitchen vegetables served to the residents every weekend from may to October, the farm Yamashita. Some visitors come from as far as Akie Abe, the wife of the prime minister of Japan. All, including those who do not have the means to afford a large table in paris, you live a magical interlude.
• Closes Yamashita, Chapet (Yvelines). Tel.: 01 30 91 98 75. Menu from € 40.