Kumiko Jitsukawa came to New York City 15 years ago. Among the contents of her suitcases were a few special ceramic bowls from the kiln called Kichu-yo in Kamakura, Japan. Beautifully and carefully crafted, the gifts were from a longtime friend who had married a master ceramic artist. (The kiln once belonged to the renowned artist and epicurean Rosanjin Kitaoji.) These striking cups and bowls, as Kumiko explained, “Made everything taste better.”
For her first several years in the New York, Kumiko had a fast-paced life as an architectural lighting designer. Friends and colleagues were always peppering her with friendly questions about her heritage. “One thing,” she revealed, “is that people kept on asking me if I knew how to make sushi!” Kumiko admitted she found the question rather odd. Sushi isn’t usually something made in the house; rather, most people in Japan eat out or have sushi catered for special occasions. Still, colleagues and friends kept asking, and gradually Kumiko began to throw casual dinner parties. Trained in kaiseki cuisine, her cooking immediately impressed. Yet, it wasn’t just creating delicate and beautiful meals that gave her joy. “There’s something about making food for people,” said Kumiko, “The food you make for others, especially for ones you love, will always be the best food you make.”
Still, the dining experience didn’t seem complete without the right tableware. The beauty of the vessel somehow transcended the routine act of eating. A meal became spiritual. A ritual. There was a spark of inspiration in that idea. As a lighting designer specializing in hospitality design, Kumiko loved to “set a mood.” Why not use her skill and imagination for the dining experience? Her work overseeing high-profile projects such as Jean-George Vongerichten's restaurant "Jean-Georges” had given her the experience and know-how to embark on a new adventure.
And so in 2014 Kumiko founded Ki-Chu New York. A unique concept, her business offers an inclusive and sensory dining experience. Crafting an atmosphere and tableware to match the food, Ki-Chu New York elevates dining in a way not normally seen (or tasted) here in the United States. Importing most of her ceramics from the namesake Kichu-yo, Kumiko takes pride in teaching her customers about the pieces from which they are eating, the history and her culture.
Now with spring’s arrival, fresh flavors with which to fill the bowls are on Kumiko’s mind. Its ki no me to which the season harkens. Literally the “tree-bud,” ki no me is most commonly associated with the new leaves of the Japanese pepper plant (Zanthoxylum piperitum), recalling a piquant spice and zest. Often garnishing grilled fish and soups, these buds have a distinctive flavor which is not to the liking of everyone – especially children. Yet, it was from a very young age which Kumiko claims her first memory of the flavors. Although notoriously hard to find in the United States, she takes solace in her regular journeys to Japan and the opportunity to eat them fresh during the season. When stateside, she enjoys the flavor of ki no me through its alternate and better known name – sansho. (If you want to try your hand at growing one of these plants yourself, click here.)
With spring truly on its way, it’s a busy time of year. Kumiko recently held a public educational event for children entitled ‘ and is planning a “learning experience assembly” for people to gain a deeper appreciation and enjoyment of Japanese food. In the future, she hopes to bring her customers to Japan as well. Meanwhile, keep an eye on Ki-Chu New York throughout the seasons, and you’ll be sure to find something of delight. (If you would like to subscribe to Ki-Chu New York’s newsletter, send a request to: email@example.com)