Going to France to learn “wonderful cuisine” at the age of 15.Living on a farm for two years to understand ingredients.
You went to France from Japan to pursue cooking even more?
I started to think about the wonderful food of the world when I turned 15.
And what came to my mind were Japanese, Chinese, and French food just like the iron chef.
I wanted to learn not only Japanese food that I ate or Chinese that I learned from my mon, but also French cuisine.
Back then my cousin lived in Lyon so I stayed at her house, went to language school for eight months, then I went to Pource brothers of Le Jardin des Sens when I was 16 years old.
As the name suggests, it was a restaurant that had a garden, but what was wonderful was the approach to try to know the materials. We went to the market everyday to see the food materials. And I was asked by a chef, “How do you cook?”.
No one had ever asked me that kind of question. There were certain ways to do for both Chinese and Japanese cuisine and I was trained to do as I was told without questioning. It was a big discovery to me that “It is okay to publish your own story.”.
And there was a chance to know deeply about the materials, right?
Yes. Another thing which was big was that I helped at the farm next to the restaurant in exchange for free rent on my room. I worked there for 2 years.
I woke up at four every morning and helped the old farmer to sell vegetables at the market.
We harvested berries and packed or flipped 200 pumpkins to make sure the sunlight hit them equally.
How many chefs have experience of spending time at a farm doing actual farm work?
This experience allowed me to understand how vegetables grow. When I see a vegetable, I can see to some extent how it was grown. This is an irreplaceable experience gained in those 2 years.
”4 prides” of French people that made me decide to remain in France
I left my home and worked abroad at age 15.. Wasn’t it tough or you felt lonely?
At “Le Jardin des Sens” there was 35 kitchen staff. I went to a language school for a short time, but I did not understand French at all at the beginning. But there was no problem in the kitchen.
I was raised by my mother to become a chef from the first place beginning, so I had already gained basic skills. I could learn things quickly when they showed me.
I was the only Asian in the kitchen but everyone took good care of me, as I was the youngest. On our days off we went to the movies or collected mushrooms.
I learned French through those experience.
My mother expected me to return to Japan and help out at her restaurant after 2 years, but I chose to remain in France.
In France, there are four things they pride the most. They are food, wine, perfume, and passion. This passion suited me and in France the status of a chef is high. People know well how hard it is to be a chef and they respect it as a great job.
After all, I was at “Le Jardin des Sens” for 9 years and eventually became a chief chef (chef dou cuisine).
Why did you move on to another restaurant after progressing all the way to a chief chef of a 3 star restaurant?
The Pource brothers of “Le Jardin des Sens” were like my fathers and mentors in France, I did not know about other places in France besides Montpellier, where the restaurant was located.
Montpellier is in the south of France so the dishes were influenced by the Mediterranean Sea.
While I lived in France, I noticed that there are a variety of regional cuisines. So I decided to work at various restaurants.