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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011

'Week of Taste' helps kids hone sense


Internationally renowned Japanese and French chefs gave a lesson Monday on basic tastes to elementary school students in Tokyo, as part of the "Week of Taste" events modeled after a campaign in France to enhance children's sense of taste and pass traditional food culture onto younger generations.

Kiyomi Mikuni, owner-chef of French restaurant Hotel de Mikuni in Tokyo, and Christian Le Squer of three-Michelin-starred restaurant Ledoyen in Paris explained to 25 third-graders at a Tokyo elementary school about five basic tastes, of bitterness, saltiness, sourness, sweetness and "umami" flavor, a characteristic of Japanese food.

Some of the students aged 8 to 9 likened the flavor of vinegar and miso to the smell of wine and sea, making exclamations with delight as they sampled ingredients representing the five tastes that also included salt and chocolate.

Le Squer presented to the kids slices of "kouign amann," a cake originating from his homeland of Brittany in northwestern France, letting them taste salted butter used in the pastry.

Yoshimi Uchisaka, a Japanese food educator who gave the lesson together with the chefs, instructed the children to fully enjoy food by using their five senses and show their gratitude to people who prepare dishes for them.

The class marked the start of the weeklong campaign across Japan to raise awareness of the sense of taste, which involves similar lessons at 27 other elementary schools and the presentation of dishes featuring the five tastes at about 30 restaurants.

At a press conference later in the day, Hisanori Isomura, former head of the Japanese cultural center in Paris, stressed the importance of food education as people's increased preference to eat junk food is feared to raise obesity rates and affect life expectancy.

Le Squer said the educational movement started by volunteering French chefs in 1990 out of concerns over children's reduced sense of taste is now well recognized in the country and kids are expected to cherish their own unique food culture as a result.

Cyrille Schwartz, president of the French campaign, said about 4,500 lessons on tastes were given in France in this year's week of taste, which falls in the third week of October. A similar event has also been held in Romania, he added.

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