The embodiment of love for his hometown of Minami Aso by
Teppei Koyama of Yamagoya Holahoo
Story 1 Finding new foods is a treasure hunt. An evolving auberge
The Aso region has been recognized as a World Agricultural Heritage site. Mount Nakadake, one of the five Aso peaks, is still an active volcano. It is one of the world’s leading sightseeing locations, and one can even go up to view the crater when activity is in abeyance.
Cattles roam in Japan’s best grassland, and the scattered cows grazing in the grass create a pastoral scene. People and nature coexist in a beautiful setting that changes with the seasons, making it one of the charms of Aso.
Quietly standing south of the volcano in Minami Aso, the auberge Yamagoya Holahoo is surrounded by trees. The name, meaning “yahoo” in German, suggests that the owner is an ardent mountain lover. Lately, he seems to be so busy that he has no time for mountain climbing, but if you visit, he will certainly want to tell you about the beauty of the Aso mountains.
Teppei Koyama is the owner of Yamagoya Holahoo. He inherited the pensione Sandy Bell from his parents, renamed it in April 2013, and embarked on a new era. His cuisine, which blends the French culinary techniques he learned from 14 years of working in hotels and restaurants with local ingredients, has earned critical acclaim. Accordingly, the place became known as the “pensione with the delicious food.” In 2021, he and his wife made a decision.
They turned it into an auberge. As the name suggests, the cuisine became the main attraction. This meant never cutting corners. As Mr. Koyama states, “I want to use ingredients from Minami Aso as much as possible. It makes sense to create dishes that evoke the local ambiance.”
Cuisine that is created from encounters with new ingredients and that brings people together is the essence of what Chef Teppei Koyama serves at Yamagoya Holahoo. His food journey is a tale of culinary creations nurtured by the majestic Aso.
Story 2. The food that the chef encountered in Minami Aso and the tale of the food that he created.
It has been eighteen and a half years since meal service began at Yamagoya Holahoo.
Mealtime starts when the fire is lit.
Take a food trip while you watch Chef Koyama cook over the flickering flames.
Mount Nakadake, which continues to erupt steam, inspired Chef Koyama to seek a show plate that would epitomize the Aso landscape and be fitting for Minami Aso, where living with an active volcano is the norm. He shared this vision with Mr. Yamashita of the Yamatoen pottery works in Aso City, envisioning a plate that complements the wood-grilled dishes prepared in a fireplace.
Mr. Yamashita is a potter who creates objects using clay that he has collected. He creates objects that can only be made in Aso, as they incorporate volcanic ash and lava.
The Volcano Plate, created using various types of Aso soil collected by Mr. Yamashita
The pottery contains many fine cracks and is rough to touch. The plate feels wild and rugged.
Lying on the plate is a menu describing the premium time about to begin. In the middle of the cutlery are some chopsticks made of Aso Nango white cypress wood. These, too, were custom made for the Premium Menu.
Aso Nango white cypress wood, which has been grown in the Takamori area of Aso since ancient times, is a precious fine wood said to have DNA from the sacred tree of the Aso Takamori Shrine.
Merely touching the wood from the soaring Aso Nango white cypress trees give one a sense of the divine.
The chopsticks, which are essential to meals in Japan, are also made of materials incorporating the history and beneficence of Aso.
“I don’t want to tell this to anyone. It’s a secret,” Mr. Koyama says. He walks ahead, looking like an innocent boy.
He sometimes acts like a boy when he talks about food.
We finally arrive at a spring surrounded by flowers and greenery. He rolls up his trousers and sleeves and enters the water without hesitation. “Wild watercress is growing here. I can pick it all year round. It matures at various times, so I can pick watercress whenever I want to use it in the day’s meals.”
Minami Aso is blessed with abundant water in the form of bubbling springs. It is on the list of Japan’s 100 most famous water attractions. “I take care to incorporate the concept of water into my menu. I feel that there is power in the water of Minami Aso.” He says that he goes to the spring almost every day to draw water for his cooking.
The Minami Aso spring water varies in its degree of hardness. Soft water is used for soup and the hard water in fond de veau sauce. Such luxury can be afforded here.
One of the courses in the Premium Menu is venison consommé royale.
The glistening yellow soup, made from the parts of venison meat that are not used in main dishes, is simmered for six to seven hours. It is a dish in which one can feel Mr. Koyama’s love, as he elevates every element into cuisine rather than wasting any life. It is served with the steamed egg custard below.
The taste of the watercress varies with the age of the plant. On this day, it is used in the Okuaso trout farci watercress sauce.
This dish combines spring-bred trout with the bittersweet taste of watercress.
Once the flames have died down in the fireplace, Chef Koyama grills Akaushi beef, venison, and vegetables. It can seem like he is performing a cooking show.
The emotional high until the next course is brought is also a time of gratification.
The Aso Sake Reizan Yamamura Brewery is in Takamori Town, a 20-minute drive from Yamagoya Holahoo. Brewing takes place on cold winter mornings, resulting in a delicious sake.
Mr. Koyama focuses on the lees left over after the sake is extracted. The end result is Aso Reizan Sake Lees Ice Cream Citrus Granita.
The aroma of sake fills one’s mouth. There is a hint of fruit-like sweetness. Then, the refreshing taste of citrus. Of course, hot Reizan sake is the perfect accompaniment.
The last course gracing the Premium Menu is a botanical tea produced by a team comprising Aso Ubuyama Kuche, Fattoria in Ubuyama, and Organ.
Herbs grown organically in a kitchen garden are picked by hand, dried, and made into bouquets. One of the best things is how cute they look.
Pour hot water over the sprigs, enjoy waiting for the tea to steep, and take a sip. Many flavors will fill your mouth. The night deepens as you savor the aftertaste.
Yamagoya Holahoo’s Premium Menu comprises a one-night, three meal plan that includes breakfast the following morning and a lunch basket after check-out. The menu just described is one for a winter day. We hope you will fully enjoy the blessings of Aso, which change with the seasons and with each encounter, along with all the dishes that are bursting with Mr. Koyama’s love for his hometown.
Text: Yukiko Imamura. Photos: Kazuki Noda
Address:4635-6 Kawayo, Minami Aso Village, Aso District, Kumamoto Prefecture
TEL:0967-67-2008 *Reservations required
Business hours:Check-in time: 15:00; check-out time: 10:00
Reservations for the Premium Menu
Each restaurant has different ingredients in its Premium Menu, so diners may enjoy Kumamoto’s seasonal dishes. Please directly contact the restaurant for details.
One-night, three-meal Mountain Goat Premium Package
*Please inquire about picking up the lunch basket (the lunch basket can be exchanged for a souvenir from Baumkuchen)
*Limited to guests of middle-school student age and above
*The regular package is one night and two meals starting at 21,000 yen per person.
Price:Starts at 28,000 yen per person
Tel.: 0967-67-2008 *Reservations required