Pleasure of the eyes feeds the pleasure of taste. A good dish starts with its appearance; the way it is presented whets our appetite even before we discover its flavours. For Ryoko Sekiguchi, it is words, above all else, that act as an appetiser. This Japanese writer and poet has made literature the first step in the tasting process, combining the arts of prose and gastronomy.

By the age of 17, the author had already won the Cahiers de la poésie contemporaine literary prize, awarded by the journal of the same name. In Japan, authors don’t send their manuscripts to editors; editors organise competitions to recognise the most promising pens, through their own journals. Success in the competition instantly catapulted her into the world of professional writing. She then started studying Art History at the Sorbonne, living between Paris and Tokyo, before settling in France for good in 1997. “I thought that by learning French, I was going to eat well,” she confided. A bold and successful strategy that would guide her on her journey of the senses.

Dumas on a plate

From a very early age, Ryoko Sekiguchi has been passionate about French gastronomy, experiencing it second-hand by immersing herself in the pages of Alexandre Dumas and his Grand dictionnaire de la cuisine. “I knew very early on that without words, cooking would not exist,” she explained. “The day that I finally had my first taste of French cuisine, it wasn’t the same thing at all; I had to start from scratch. I remember that even olive oil was difficult; I found that it tasted just like pencil. And cheeses, well, let’s not go there. My interaction with taste entered the field bit by bit. I knew that once I was used to it, it was going to be delicious. Every time, it was a victory, the way the scales tipped towards being delectable. Just as it sometimes is with children and coffee as they’re growing up.”   

However, making cooking the raw material of her writing would come a lot later, just 10 years ago, in fact. A tragic date when Japan was struck by a succession of catastrophes. A nuclear accident, a tsunami, an earthquake… the city of Fukushima was devastated. It was through its culinary heritage that Ryoko Sekiguchi wanted to pay tribute to the traditions, culture and inhabitants of that region and the whole of Japan. “It was at that moment that I wanted to leave a trace of memories, ephemeral things, tastes that have disappeared, the smell of the food your mother makes. And since that day, it hasn’t stopped.”  

A delicious history

Starting with History with a capital H, she fashions her stories by drawing on the collective imagination, but also thinks about everyday, individual and more personal history. Above all else, cooking is a social thing, a time of sharing, something that brings us together. Her works set out to reflect this unity and they regularly use a meeting as a springboard to create a new collaboration. “Together is more joyful, it’s more delicious”

Whether sensory cook books or gastronomic adventure novels, these literary works with taste running through their pages turn the function of feeding into poetry. On the tip of your tongue, vernacular and organic, Ryoko Sekiguchi sets out her prose in dreamlike experiments. Speaking of which, that’s also the term she prefers to give them… culinary experiments. “The idea is to conceive a kind of wandering. I really like this idea of trying, experimenting, feeling the way forward, and I would love to showcase this genre again.” From dish to delicious, there’s only a page.

Text : Marie-Charlotte Burat
Photo © Felipe Ribon