Along with preparing tasty Spanish dishes, Koji Fukaya, the owner of Restaurante Vascu, has been networking chefs and other residents of his hometown of Hakodate, Hokkaido.

The 71-year-old chef launched Bar-Gai, an event promoting bar-hopping, as well as the world cuisine academic meeting, where chefs from around the world meet and share their cooking philosophies.

The two events are similar in that they are based on horizontal ties and are still ongoing.

Whenever Fukaya says, “You know what, why don’t we ...,” local friends smile and say, “Here he goes again” and start discussing his idea.

Fukaya will never forget a scene he saw while training in San Sebastian in his 20s.

One afternoon, the chef he was training under was going out and told Fukaya to come along. He was heading to a meeting where the town’s cooks shared their special dishes and discussed problems they had.

Surprised, Fukaya asked, “Aren’t they rivals?” His master said, “Until a while ago. But isn’t the rival we should be taking on the metropolis of Madrid?”

Fast-forward 40 years, and San Sebastian is now regarded as a gastronomic city that draws people from around the world.

“It was proven that cooks can change a town," Fukaya said. "The local ingredients give them a backup.”

The Oshima Peninsula, where Hakodate is located, is surrounded by rich fishing grounds that offer great benefits to the chefs.

The sea offers squid, “donko” (dark sleeper), “baba-garei” (slime flounder) and “madara” (Pacific cod). The cod is not only in season during the winter when it offers soft roe but also from June when the flesh of “summer cod” is enjoyed.

Fukaya goes to the fish market at the port to buy quality cod caught by pole fishing or long-line fishery, methods that are less prone to damaging the fish.

“I tell the chefs in Tokyo about them but being in Hakodate, I get to offer even the guts nicely as well," he said. "You can’t imagine how neat and clean cod liver tastes.”

Cod with salsa verde is a local cuisine of the Basque region. It is served piping hot in an earthenware called “cazuela.”

A thick slice of fresh and chewy fish is offered in parsley sauce with clam stock that gives the dish a full flavor.

After a powerful earthquake hit Hokkaido in early September, daily life has returned to the streets of Hakodate, but the effects on tourism remain a concern.

“Our job is to prepare tasty dishes and open the restaurants, day in and day out,” says Fukaya.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves two)

2 slices fresh cod

10 “asari” clams

1 Tbsp saute of finely chopped onion

1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic

Bit of chili

1 tsp chopped parsley

100 cc fish stock (Japanese-style bonito and kelp stock works as well)

50 cc white wine

Bit of lemon juice

METHOD

Rinse clams. Finely chop onion and saute with oil until transparent. Finely chop garlic and parsley. Sprinkle bit of salt on cod and dust with flour.

Pour olive oil (little more than usual) in frying pan, add garlic, chili and place over low heat and cook while shaking pan back and forth. When garlic starts to color, place cod side down. When oil has coated the fish, turn the sides and add white wine.

Add fish stock, clams, sauteed onion and place lid. Cook until cod is done, and clams have opened.

Remove cod and clams on dish. Add parsley to remaining sauce in pan and heat. Season with salt and lemon juice and pour on cod.

* * *

From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column