French-style seafood was always the big seller at Toshio Tanabe’s downtown Tokyo restaurant, but for many years the chef had a secret passion – soil.

Now his interest in soil cuisine has culminated in a feast that starts with an amuse-bouche of soil soup and ends with soil sorbet.

“Man didn’t create the sea, the air or the soil. They’re simply all part of nature, and in a sense they are alive in their own right,” says Tanabe. “What I’m trying to do is reflect that feeling in food.”

A professional boxer in his youth, Tanabe turned his hand to cooking in his twenties, training in France. For the past 20 years he has run a French restaurant in Tokyo, and over the past eight has slowly introduced his customers to samples of soil-inspired cuisine.

At first, the search for a clean and chemical-free main ingredient was tough work. “I had to go all over the place… into the mountains… places where there was no farming. Then I had to dig it up from deep under the ground.”

Now Tanabe sources his soil through a local supplier that delivers a kilogram of dirt a day, checked for harmful substances.

He lightly cooks the dirt to release the flavour, then sieves it to remove any stray grains of sand.

The six-course soil extravaganza is not especially cheap, running to ¥10 000 (R955) a diner.

Many are surprised by the unusual experience.

“Humans used to eat soil,” he says, but he acknowledges that not all customers are fans. – Reuters