LONG BEFORE TOKYO COULD boast the highest concentration of 3 star Michelin restaurants in the world, few dining spots were as beloved for the atmosphere and eclectic food as the FCCJ. Of course, there was little competition for the Tokyo Press Club when MacArthur first came ashore with his feisty army of war journalists. Most didn’t have access to the Occupation’s tasty American eateries, so it was left to the loving efforts and ingenuity of early members to disseminate their traditions from home to the Club’s kitchen where the average cook would never have seen a pizza, much less tasted one.
Legends abound of Club classics which long graced our menu. The original vichyssoise recipe now a perennial bestseller was contributed by a CBS correspondent. Ambassadors would come to teach how their favorite dishes should be made, and often sent their chefs for special evenings. The international atmosphere was unparalleled in Tokyo, and people came from far and wide to enjoy and learn.
The FCCJ was also by far the most popular watering hole in Tokyo, and by the 1950s, the likes of James Michener, Ian Fleming, hacks and spies galore had to wait in line for a coveted seat in our dining room. That’s about the time when the Correspondents’ Tables were first introduced to allow journalists up against a deadline to grab a table and catch a quick meal. Along with the Open Table for solo diners, this also served to free up other tables.
In the 60s and 70s, Tokyo’s landscape changed dramatically as it became Asia’s dominant economic hub, and the throng of war journalists gave way to a new wave of finance and culture writers. We began to take some more interest in fine wines, and Fernando Mezzetti of La Stampa made arrangements to send a young Chef Takagi to Italy for training. Members still remember fondly the fruits of his devoted studies, and how much he instilled in the other cooks after his return.
But such increasing sophistication did nothing to dampen our taste for the new and the exotic. Charles Pomeroy still can’t forget the Western style “sushi sandwich” on rye with cottage cheese and smoked salmon, or the Correspondents Soba, which he recalls as being more of a ramen with chicken on top.
Our pastrami on rye competed with the best delis in town, and no one came close to our legendary rack of lamb. Some can’t forget the freshly baked apple pie served hot with cheese on top. Others recall Pio d’Emilia’s delectable family pasta recipe. Such remembrances at the Round Table had many wishing to taste them once again.
Andrew Horvat took us up a notch in elegance under his 1988-89 presidency when he invited Hungarian Zsigmond Szabo, sous chef at the Duna Intercontinental Hotel, to be guest chef for three months. Some remember imaginative creations like chilled soup with peach and spices, and dining room sales shooting up 300 percent. Horvat also brought the exacting professional standards of Al Stamp to our kitchen, known, amongst many firsts, for introducing the sushi bar.
A recent Sunday Brunch hosted by Hanif brought back many of the favorites he has served over the decades and proved to be one of the most popular dates ever. So let’s hear it for something classic, something new, always unique and international. To new F&B Chair Bob Whiting, that sounds like an enduringly winning formula. Now the hunt is on to retrieve the treasure trove of FCCJ’s crown jewels hidden away in the dusty mazes of our collective memories and overflowing archives.
– The Shimbun Alley Whisperers