Lee Hefter's Japan
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Its called kaiseki, and its the haute cuisine of Japan - served in a hushed tatami room, each course (there are 14) with its own visual language. Spago Beverly Hills executive chef Lee Hefter, center, who for years has been traveling to Japan for culinary inspiration, dines at the Kyoto inn Hiiragiya Ryokan with his wife, Sharon, and friend Tetsu Yahagi. It stimulates the creative process, Hefter says of his Japanese jaunts. I let it digest for a month and then go back to my notes and get inspired again. The kaiseki framework, meanwhile, is formal: Those 14 courses always include two artfully composed appetizers, a sashimi course, a simmered dish, a grilled dish, a steamed course, a middle course that always comes in a beautiful lidded dish.