When I said I wanted a reservation, this isn't what I had in mind

Fancy-pants restaurant chain Senba Kitchō, who you might remember spent a few good weeks in the media doghouse late last year after their labeling misdeeds came to light, are in even deeper trouble following revelations that they have been re-serving leftovers:

The restaurant's head chef admitted at a press conference on Friday that the restaurant had been using the leftovers of six dishes, such as sweetfish broiled with salt, since five or six years ago.

But [...] sources said the restaurant had actually been reusing a wider range of food items, including broiled fish and beef that had been left untouched by customers, by cooking them again and serving them sometimes in boxed meals.

This is, if I may use a technical term, gross. It is also a terrible slur on the memory of YUKI Teiichi (湯木貞一), who founded the original Kitchō and was widely respected not only for his culinary talents but also his dedication to keeping traditions like the tea ceremony alive and relevant in the context of modern hospitality. (Senba Kitchō is a spin-off business run by Teiichi's daughter YUKI Sachiko (湯木佐知子) and her husband YUKI Masanori (湯木正徳), who married into the family and took their name.)

The story got even better when Sachiko held a press conference a few days after the revelations to announce that she didn't like the word "leftovers" (食べ残し) and would prefer that the media use the term "cuisine that was served but left untouched" (お出しして残された『お料理』), KTHXBYE:


The distinction being drawn here is between the verbs tabenokosu and nokosu. Nokosu means "leave behind, leave untouched". Tabenokosu is from taberu (eat) + nokosu, thus "to leave uneaten". It seems that Yuki would argue that if a dish remains entirely untouched, the verb tabenokosu can not apply to that dish because no actual eating has taken place.

Sadly for her, most people, including myself, judge "eating" to begin at the instant that an item of food is served: after that point, it is ritually unclean. Whether a bite has literally been taken out of it or not is an "accident" in the technical sense, a entirely irrelevant to the question of leftoversheit.

Here is where, if I were writing a column for a foreign newspaper, I would explain that the Senba Kitchō management team's real crime in the eyes of Japan is their lack of hansei—self-reflection, regret, soul-searching. But that would be meaningless exoticization. Is there any human society in which wrongdoers who fail to show regret get forgiven anyway? (Except for the world of high finance, of course. Boom boom!)

No, if anything, Yuki's sheer chutzpah has made her almost a folk hero. Remember that cringetastic press event at which reporters clearly overheard Yuki herself whispering instructions to her son Kikurō, and then when they asked her directly if she didn't plan to resign from the board, she claimed to be hard of hearing? Good times. Beat Takeshi wanted to give her an award for it (she declined through an intermediary). This latest performance is just one more scream of buckling steel from the never-ending trainwreck that is Senba Kitchō... and humans love to rubberneck.

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I can think of a few reasons why I might leave an entree untouched at my table, none of them very reassuring: I felt sick, somebody else at the table sneezed directly onto it, a cockroach walked across it, ...


Agreed, it's gross. My mom ran restaurants and her rule was, the moment a waiter lowers a plate below the customer's nose, it cannot be re-served. If they can breathe on it, it's theirs.

But we probably should make cultural adaptations. I remember once asking my professor why my host family had sets of slippers at the kitchen entrance, like they had bathroom slippers. He said that traditional Japanese homes had two sections of the home that were not elevated above the ground, the kitchen and the bathroom. While the main living quarters were raised (so we "agaru" into a home) the kitchen and bathrooms were usually bare earth. He said there is still a strong cultural association of uncleanliness to both kitchens and toilets because of this. Perhaps it's unsurprising that Japanese don't have the same expectations of cleanliness for products coming out of a kitchen. At that point I told my professor "oh, that explains a lot, like why my host family has no problem serving me cold pizza that's been sitting out unrefrigerated for 3 days."


I guess this makes me glad that I was never fancy-pants enough to eat there...


This should not surprise anyone who has worked in any restaurant, anywhere...


Have you ever read Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London? That makes this seem fairly routine...of course that was like 60 years ago. There's that one hilarious section where he says that the more important a dish is, the more it will be touched by the head chef.


Eh, it's not like this is the absolute worst thing a restaurant could pull in the kitchen but it'd have been completely beyond the pale anyplace I've worked (and that includes fast food!). My wife (in the industry here) says the same thing. Charles's story about his mother is closer to the attitudes I've observed among people who really cared about their work with food.

Incidentally, Charles, the Japanese are 100% against this too as far as I can tell. I can only assume it's a case of crazed and entitlement-drunk management rather than defensible cultural oddity.


This reminds me of the Akafuku scandal this past fall. The confectioners to the Gods in Ise were freezing and repackaging unsold sweets. It probably is not such a big deal except for the fact that everytime you buy the stuff they take great pains to tell you to eat it within three days to maintain the freshness.

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