Japan is the perfect place for the discerning traveller to embark on a culinary adventure. And over the years of working and talking with Japanese individuals around the country, we’ve noticed that they too go on culinary adventures, but they don’t go abroad for their food – they head north to Hokkaido. Now, the wonders of the food in Niseko is not lost on us, we’re obsessed, but we decided to dig a bit deeper.
During a recent Niseko trip, members of The Luxe Nomad concierge team were able to get a taste of the real Hokkaido. Travelling to the HOKKAIDian Homestead which hosts Japanese cooking workshops and culinary experiences, they met with the owner, Ian Fong. While there, not only did they get to eat some glorious bits of deliciousness (you should hear the voice notes the team sent me – there was A LOT of delighted squeaking), but learn the Japanese culinary arts.
Given the vast numbers of drool-worthy pictures and videos the concierge team sent me (including those in the above Instagram post from Joey, our Head of Concierge), I knew I needed to find out more. Read on to learn more about Ian, his decision to set up the HOKKAIDian Homestead (he was once a Hong Kong-based banker!) and how you too can savour the goodness.
What is the inspiration behind setting up HOKKAIDian Homestead?
The concept of HOKKAIDian Homestead first came to me after I left Hong Kong and began working with local farmers and fishermen. They were so kind and generous in sharing their knowledge and expertise with me. I wanted to share my experience with others.
Then, I discovered folks like Dan Barber through his inspiring Ted Talks and Hugh Fearnley of River Cottage. These iconic figures and their work provided me with a guideline of how to shape HOKKAIDian Homestead. I wanted to turn it into a place where guests could take their time to prepare and enjoy great food, and more importantly, be with friends and family.
Can you tell us about how your interest in food developed?
From an early age, I was fascinated by the way my mom, and occasionally, my dad took great time and effort to prepare delicious food for sharing with family and friends. It is that communal aspect of eating that I find so fulfilling. In most of my happiest memories, there is food involved.
Why did you choose to leave banking and Hong Kong behind?
My wife, Noriko, and I were driven by the hope that our daughters would grow up with a sense of wonder and appreciation for the world in which we live. We believe that raising them in a community with a strong connection to nature is one of the best ways to do that. We were fortunate to have found that community here in Hokkaido.
From the time we made that decision, it became an easy choice for me to pursue my dream of working in food. Hokkaido, with its natural resources and its abundance of great seasonal foods, is the perfect place.
Why did you decide to set up in Uchiura Bay in particular?
The Date/Toya area where we are located is blessed with the protection of the Uchiura Bay. The bay gives this area comparatively mild climates and plenty of sunshine year round. Over the millennia, the nearby Mt. Usu volcano has provided this area with very fertile farmland and a nutrient-rich bay. This, in turn, is how we are able to source very high-quality foods from both the land and the sea.
As to the specific location of HOKKAIDian Homestead, we are on a serene hill surrounded by beautiful farmland overlooking the Uchiura Bay. Also in our direct line of sight are the iconic Mt. Usu, Showa Shinzan, Nakajima Island of Lake Toya and Mt. Yotei. This vantage point reminds us of the close relationship we share with the nature that surrounds us.
Can you describe to us your typical work-day?
On most days, I’m up before 6 am. If we are welcoming guests to the Homestead that day, I will make my rounds picking up ingredients for the day. I share this task with Bastien, our chef, who usually handles the veggies. I, typically, take care of the seafood.
Then we are back at the Homestead to get things ready. I set up the outdoor space, Noriko makes sure things are prepared indoors for our guests, and Chef Bastien starts prepping the food.
On days when we are not open for guests, after taking a look at our local farmers’ market to see what’s in season I will spend the day working with Bastien. We like to use these days to test seasonal menus for our various guest programs.
Can you tell us a bit more about Bastien and what his background is?
Bastien began his culinary training in his early teenage years in his native France. Since then, he has travelled far and wide. Bastien has worked in several prestigious hotels and resorts all over the world. In 2010, Bastien and his lovely wife chose to settle in her native country of Japan.
Although used to warmer climates, Bastien came here because he couldn’t resist the top quality fresh ingredients that Hokkaido has to offer. We are very fortunate to have Bastien as a vital member of the HOKKAIDian Homestead team. He guides our guests on their culinary journeys and shows them the essence of the Hokkaido food experience.
What do you hope your guests to take away from a visit to the Homestead?
At HOKKAIDian Homestead we focus on food that is farmed or sourced responsibly and ethically. In sharing these delicious foods in a beautiful setting so close to nature, we hope our guests will be reminded of our relationship with nature and reconnect with life’s simple pleasures.
What type of events do you host?
Our regular programs are cooking workshops. We use fresh seasonal ingredients that are sourced locally. A very popular event is our Hokkaido Seafood Experience. Another is our Cooking with Chef Bastien where we prepare fantastic meat and veggies from our area. For those looking for a comprehensive Hokkaido culinary experience, our full-day program, The Homestead Experience, combines those two programs into one.
What is your favourite part of the business?
There are many things I love about what we do! From working with people who are knowledgeable and passionate about food, to spending a good amount of time doing physical labour.
The most fulfilling has to be my interactions with the guests; sharing what I’ve learned about Hokkaido food, preparing food together, guiding them around the grounds of the Homestead. The absolute best part is seeing their happy smiles.
What’s the best time of year to visit you?
All four seasons in Hokkaido are spectacular; each in their own way. Anytime is a good time at the Homestead!
How can people reach the Homestead if they’re to come for a visit from Niseko?
HOKKAIDian Homestead is about 1 hour away from Niseko by car. It’s a scenic drive that brings you through beautiful Lake Toya. In the winter, local professional transfers would be a good choice for those not accustomed to driving in snow. The good folks at The Luxe Nomad can certainly help with arrangements.
Are you hungry yet? We’re starving.