Creative zone: Shuichiro Kawaguchi, minister-counsellor and deputy head of mission at the Japanese Embassy, is proving a friend wrong after she said butternut did not taste good. Picture: SUPPLIED
Creative zone: Shuichiro Kawaguchi, minister-counsellor and deputy head of mission at the Japanese Embassy, is proving a friend wrong after she said butternut did not taste good. Picture: SUPPLIED

When deputy head of mission at the Japanese Embassy Shuichiro Kawaguchi talks about food, he always smiles because of his passion, which was cultivated by his mother from an early age.

Kawaguchi says he is motivated to cook for others because it always puts smiles on their faces.

He was raised in a family where food played an important role. His father loved tasty food.

After he married, his passion for cooking grew as he created fans of his own.

Kawaguchi cooks with French and Japanese flair combined, and the results are quite stunning. His latest mission is a tasty butternut dish.

"I was motivated by a Japanese friend during a Facebook conversation when she insisted butternut did not taste good," he says.

Kawaguchi wanted to prove that she was wrong, and he knew that the specific qualities of butternut — sweet, creamy and rich — gave him more than enough to work with.

Butternuts are cultivated in Japan, but they are not as good as what he has found in SA. They are also very expensive in his home country.

He became so obsessed by his new passion that since July 24 last year, he has created a new, daily dish featuring butternut and now has more than 230 recipes.

Kawaguchi has taken inspiration from others, but when he works from a recipe, and that is not often, he adds twists and makes it his own.

He says it is possible that he will continue until he has 800 butternut recipes or the perfect-tasting dish — whichever comes first. Then he will consider publishing a book of butternut recipes and turn his attention to something else.

He and his wife have five children — two of whom stay with them in Tshwane.

He concedes that they might be bored with butternut, but he has not yet achieved the brilliance he is seeking.

He started with the ubiquitous butternut soup and his version persuaded him to keep going. "I started really liking the taste and was determined to prove my point," he explains.

He keeps detailed recipes and photographs for every stage of all his experiments, concluding with a serving of the finished dish. The quality is fine dining and his family do not have much to complain about.

His diverse dishes include butternut cookies and pickled butternut. Every dish is given a name like the Munch or Scream, Self Portrait or Sunset in Pretoria — the names are as imaginative as the project.

Kawaguchi has become the authority on butternut. He buys it in bulk at his local greengrocer because it is so much cheaper than at supermarkets, and he prefers a young squash because it is less sweet and the texture much more flexible.

The more mature the butternut, the sweeter the flesh and the more fragile it is, which is useful for some recipes.

It can even be eaten raw, Kawaguchi says. He slices it very thinly and dips it into salt. He also likes baking it whole, almost char-grilling it at a high temperature, which results in deliciously soft butternut which he eats with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.

Because the vegetable does not have a strong taste, salt should be used sparingly, but that also means it adapts easily to different taste experiments.

Kawaguchi has no difficulties creating new recipes because his years of cooking have provided a great memory bank on which to draw.

On a previous posting in Tanzania, he had a television cooking programme in addition to his responsibilities at the embassy.

In Finland, Kawaguchi cooked for a Finnish/Japanese society to expose them to Japanese cuisine and extend his cooking experiences.

"It is like a music concert," says Kawaguchi, who is also an accomplished violinist, "only, I entertain with food".

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