"Yamashita sells his vegetables to only seven chefs, all of them Michelin starred"by Wendell Steavenson / October 12, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Cabbage White butterflies fluttered along a row of brassicas, big tough verdigris outer leaves, interior shaded milk jade to tender neon.
“It is a variety called the petit-vert,” said Asafumi Yamashita as he gave us a tour of his garden farm on the edge of the Paris suburbs at the end of September. “It is a mix between kale and brussels sprouts. A Japanese farmer created it 20 years ago, but he wouldn’t sell his seeds. Eventually I convinced him. They are very difficult to cultivate, these are probably the only ones in Europe.”
Yamashita is an original outlier, a Japanese transplant who has become the most famous and celebrated maraîcher, market gardener, in all of France. He sells his vegetables to only seven chefs, all of them Michelin starred. “For an average chef,” Yamashita told me, “because my vegetables are so good, cooking with them is very easy. But for a great chef it is very difficult. A great chef wants to express himself, his personality, his ideas and thoughts. It can take them two or three years to figure out how to deal with my vegetables. They are facing something larger than themselves. It is like facing God.”
Yamashita is in his early sixties, longish hair raked back with his fingers, relaxed and friendly; he wore an old t-shirt spotted with dirt. His garden is less than an acre of polytunnels off a path of trodden nettles littered with coils of hose, buckets and piles of wooden stakes. We bent to examine rows of edamame, grey green succulent spears of onions, small blackish pumpkins, a perfect melon, seven varieties of cherry tomatoes hanging as bright and shiny as Christmas tree baubles, yellow pear shapes nestling beneath a vine—“what are those”?