May 24, 2024

In Tokachi, a food supply chain for ‘receiving life’



Elezo Esprit is situated on a hill overlooking the ocean. This building is the restaurant. Three smaller structures are lodging accommodations.

In the Destination Restaurants list of Japan’s most outstanding fine-dining establishments, the inn-restaurant Elezo Esprit far surpasses mere “fine dining.” On a 14-hectare site in Hokkaido’s Tokachi region, Elezo’s meat-production center raises pigs and game fowl and from them produces meat, charcuterie, and salami and prosciutto. Under the direction of chef and CEO Shota Sasaki, every step in the process is completed in one location. In the truest sense, this approach confronts us with the question “What is fine dining?”

Sasaki was 24 when he first envisioned this majestic concept. Its origin goes back to a day when he was working in the cafe-restaurant run by his family. “One of our regular customers was a hunter,” Sasaki said, “and he asked me, ‘Have you ever done the work of turning life into food?’”

At Elezo Esprit, pigs are raised by the production division. Due to the effective use of sloped terrain, the pigs are moderately muscled and their meat has a firm, fine-grained texture.

At the time, the only wild game meat that Sasaki had ever handled was frozen meat from overseas, so he was a bit confused by the question. But the next day the hunter brought in an entire deer fresh from the hunt, and at the back of the restaurant Sasaki assisted him as he drained its blood and gutted, skinned and butchered it. The deer had been alive just a short time before, and it was still warm. To Sasaki the entire phenomenon was mystical and beautiful, including the process of the animal’s transformation into meat. The deer was hung in a cool place for two weeks, and when Sasaki tasted the meat he was astonished by its wonderful flavor. He sent the venison to several restaurants, including the restaurant in Tokyo where he had trained, and received enthusiastic feedback. As a result, he decided to start a company selling game meat from Tokachi.

Sasaki said: “If I was going to take on this challenge, I didn’t want to do anything by halves, so I searched for literature and started studying. I was shocked to learn that there is discrimination against people who work in meat-handling occupations. It’s nonsensical that, behind the scenes of glittering restaurant spaces, there are people who aren’t recognized for their work. In addition to offering high-quality meat to customers, I decided I wanted to build a team with enough influence to raise the status of these people. I couldn’t do much to further that goal just by making pronouncements from the kitchen. So in 2005 I founded the comprehensive production and distribution company Elezo, which respects all the people involved in the supply chain for food meat, as well as the life that is transformed into food — wild game, poultry and so on — from a chef’s perspective.”

In 2009, Sasaki hired hunters as regular employees — a first in Japan. This, too, was based on respect for the profession of hunting. The first hunter to join Elezo was Matsuo Ozaki, the one who had brought Sasaki the deer. Sadly, in 2022 Ozaki died in an accident while hunting. As Sasaki often says, “Food is not a game.”

A bedroom in the lodging facility, decorated with a stuffed deer and meat-related art.

The restaurant’s entrance. The walls are decorated with art inspired by the work of Elezo’s four divisions.

Respect for all the people working in the culinary field is also expressed in the entrance of Elezo Esprit. Visitors pass through a hallway decorated with artwork inspired by the leaders of each of the company’s divisions — raising and hunting, aging and distribution, charcuterie production and so on. They proceed to the dining room after viewing a short film about food with the theme of “receiving life.” The dishes are prepared by the same staff members — led by Sasaki — who raise Elezo’s pigs and ducks, butcher the meat, and process and produce salami and other charcuterie. In this way the staff is able to take feedback from guests witnessing the completion of lives transformed into cuisine.

Elezo-brand meat and food products have gained a steadily growing following. Sasaki’s intentions resonate with the ideas of the people in the surrounding Toyokorocho area who aim to create local specialties. Through the “hometown tax donation program” and sales at direct outlets as part of the town’s “specialty product creation project,” terrine and other products originated by Elezo are also helping in the effort to spread the word in Hokkaido and beyond about the region’s appeal.

Looking to the future, Sasaki has plans to grow vegetables and wine grapes. Currently, original wines are made for Elezo by producers in the Granite Belt wine region of Australia, and in parallel with this, Sasaki aspires to produce wines in Toyokorocho as well. He has also outlined his dream of developing Elezo’s food supply chain in Australia. Built around a meat-based culinary culture, the Elezo world continues its steady expansion.


Sasaki was born in 1981 in Obihiro, Hokkaido Prefecture. After gaining experience at a Hoshino Resorts restaurant in Karuizawa and Bistro de la Cite in Tokyo, in 2005 he launched Elezo in order to establish a comprehensive model for the in-house processing and distribution of meat. Concurrently with Elezo’s wholesale meat sales (with an emphasis on game meat) to restaurants throughout Japan, Sasaki has been managing restaurants, previously in Sapporo and Tokyo’s Shoto area and currently in its Toranomon area. In 2022 he opened Elezo Esprit in Otsu, Toyokorocho, in the Nakagawa district of Hokkaido. In recognition of his initiatives concerning bird and wildlife damage and meat usage programs, he was awarded the Rural Development Bureau (Captured Wildlife Usage Division) Director-General’s Award and the Culinary Masters bronze award in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Fiscal Year 2019 Wild Policy Outstanding Activity Awards.


北海道・十勝地域にある豊頃町大津のオーベルジュ『エレゾ エスプリ』はファインダイニングを遥かに超えた存在だ。14haの敷地で〈エレゾ〉代表、佐々木章太という料理人のもと、豚や鴨などの食肉となる命を育て、処理し、調理してサーブするフードチェーンを一箇所で完結させている。




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