Hokkaido people like their food strong. They use a lot of salt and flavouring to really make their dishes go zing. But Kutchan restaurant Bleu Cielo’s chef Shinji Kawaguchi says there’s enough flavour in Hokkaido’s rich ingredients without needing to zoop them up with additives. He needs nothing more than a camp oven, a few vegies and a bit of meat to create a full flavoured feast. “I’m not the master here – the dutch oven is,” he says as he admires one of the heavy black pots that are prepared in the kitchen before being placed onto the table for guests to dip into.
Like many in the area, Shinji-san is a mad keen skier from the mainland who was drawn to Hokkaido by its snow and mountains. His mother often worked in small coffee shops and restaurants when he was growing up and he often helped her cook. When he finished high school he trained to be a chef and 20 years later he can’t imagine doing anything else. He’s been in Niseko for 10 years now and worked for the past six years at popular restaurant JoJo’s, in the NAC adventure centre. But with an ever-present hankering to do his own thing and take 100% control over his work, the self-proclaimed perfectionist moved on and opened Bleu Cielo midway through last year.
It was actually one of his jobs at NAC that inspired Shinji-san’s house specialty. He used to take summer wilderness camping trips in central Hokkaido. He and his guests would load their camping gear and provisions into kayaks, paddle down stream and camp overnight under a star-filled Hokkaido night sky. The guests must have given new meaning to the phrase ‘happy camper’ when Shinji-san lifted the lid of their camp fire oven and they smelt the aroma of gourmet chicken and vegetables. Even more so when they awoke to the bread he had awoken before dawn to make and bake.
There’s plenty more on Bleu Cielo’s Italian-influenced menu but his hot pots (and his chocolate cakes for that matter) will give any Western grandmother’s a damn good run for their money.
Blue Cielo is on the first street in from Route 5 in the Kutchan food and entertainment district – find the Loaf Lounge and you’re almost there.
Buses to Kutchan leave from the main street near Seicomart. The bus stop is a few small signs on the roadside opposite PowPow. Buses leave every half hour or so during the day and cost ¥380. The night bus is free and leaves every hour or so from 5pm. Timetable on the back of the resort’s course map.