Big Changes - And Secrets - At Vegetarian Temple Kajitsu

Chef NishiharaIt sort of feels like the Michael Jordan retirement, at least to those who worship at the altar of the acclaimed vegetarian restaurant Kajitsu located in New York’s East Village. Chef Masato Nishihara announced earlier this month that he was walking away from the two Michelin-starred shojin (Zen Buddhist) cuisine restaurant to….well, nobody really knew. But, finally, the silence has been broken. Sort of. “He is going to England and probably doing a stint in a restaurant,” says tight-lipped restaurant spokesperson Chiaki Takada of the chef who is neither Buddhist nor vegetarian, but won fans interlacing both disciplines into his four and seven course tasting menus. The monthly rotating Kaze (4 course) and Hana (7 course) menus featured dishes like homemade soba, grilled taro root and fried black eyed peas with salsify, nori-fu and morels. His last shift is March 31.

Taking over for Nishihara is Ryota Ueshima, who worked as the executive chef at Murasaki no Wakuden, one of the top kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) restaurants in Kyoto. But this change in leadership only appears to be temporary.

“The owner’s mission is to give young, talented, Japanese chefs a chance to grow in New York where the world’s best come,” says Takada of the concept of rotating in new talent from Japan. “The family has operated a food business in Kyoto for over 250 years. They are passionate about introducing Kyoto’s food culture to people around the world.”

And the changes do not end there. The secretive owners are currently in negotiations to move the restaurant from East 9th Street to a yet-to-be-determined location in Midtown.  The restaurant’s spokesperson declined to comment, given the ongoing negotiations. But we can speculate the move is aimed to take the restaurant more up-market.

As for Nishihara-san, who also won a prestigious Star Chefs Rising Star Award in 2010?  We hope he lands in a NYC kitchen after traveling around Europe and very possibly eating a little meat along the way. Jamon in San Sebastian, perhaps?

Nishihara-san - please send us a postcard!

But, as noted, it still feels a little like a Michael Jordan retirement. And we know how that went the first time.

– Matt Rodbard


Kajitsu 414 East 9th Street  New York, NY 10003 212-228-4873