French chef Fumio Yonezawa has been serving as a volunteer once a month at the Ronald McDonald House Setagaya in Tokyo where his cooking helps lift the spirits of those who stay here.

The house, which is run by a public-interest incorporated foundation, is a facility for families and their children, who need to stay in or visit hospitals located far from home to receive advanced medical care. Some NPOs and other organizations have set up these type of accommodations near the hospitals to relieve the burden on young patients and their families.

The facility in Setagaya has 23 rooms and accommodates about 40 people. Although guests usually cook their own food, meals that are co-sponsored by companies are served a few times a month. Yonezawa, 37, the head chef of Jean-Georges Tokyo, a French restaurant located in Tokyo’s Roppongi district, teaches cooking to the other volunteers and also helps with preparing meals.

The chef's brother, who is six years younger than him, has Down syndrome and spent a long time in the hospital when he was young. Yonezawa recalls his mother frequenting the hospital.

The family members of the patients tend to put themselves second, with some choosing to buy box lunches from convenience stores. Yonezawa tries to prepare meals that “soothe the body and soul,” so he uses a generous amount of vegetables and a moderate amount of seasonings.

His minestrone, which is full of vegetables, is one such dish. Although a tomato-based version may come to mind, his soup mainly features green vegetables such as broccoli. The Romanesco broccoli belongs to the cauliflower family, while the fennel is a herb that is also known as “uikyo” in Japan. Salt is the only seasoning that goes into the pot. But the layered flavors of garlic, cheese and vegetables create a full-flavored dish.

A person who tried Yonezawa’s minestrone commented, “I would return exhausted these past few days and couldn’t even stand the thought of deciding what I should eat ... I was happy to be able to eat such an authentic dish.”

The sight of the vivid green and pink color of the sakura shrimp is quite uplifting.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves four)

1 onion

1/2 small carrot

1 stalk celery

Some broccoli, field mustard (nanohana), Romanesco broccoli and fennel

5 pods green peas

3 pods broad beans (soramame)

2 cloves garlic

4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp salt

Some fresh sakura shrimp (sakura ebi), frying oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano or grated cheese

METHOD

Shell and boil green peas and broad beans. Remove the exterior coating from the latter. Dice other vegetables or cut into similar size.

Pour olive oil in pot, add peeled and crushed garlic to draw out aroma. Add onion, carrot, celery and stir-fry thoroughly until tender.

Add water. It should not entirely cover the contents. Add remaining vegetables and cook. When ready, season with salt.

Deep-fry sakura shrimp until crisp.

Pour soup in bowl, sprinkle with shrimp. Pour small amount of olive oil (not listed above) and grated Parmigiano.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column