Providing service to customers in the same way but changing up the ingredients and presentation
So, little by little, the “Hoba” style came into shape.
Yes. After that, we made more dishes incorporating many vegetables, but one day my friend who was a pharmacist told me, “Arai, your food has so much vegetables, so my stomache doesn’t feel heavy.” Because of that, I started to focus more on “healthy food”.
In fact, when we explain the dish to the customers, we also mention, “It’s better to eat vegetables first so that your blood sugar level will not rise and it’s less fattening.” By doing so, in communicating with our customers, we are able to increase the value of the dish. They will be able to enjoy the food even more.
Maybe that’s a marketing perspective; even if they were the same thing, the perception of customers vary depending on the presentation.
Yes. Even though we were serving Korean food, by changing the ingredients and presentation, the customers could discover something new and be very pleased.
Are creating a course and using premium ingredients also some of these methods?
That’s right. I think about how excited my customers can get.
Normally, in Korean cuisine, it is considered good to arrange plates in a row on the table. This is because presentation is very important. However, because I trained in Italian cooking, I felt strongly about cold dishes enjoyed while cold, and warm dishes enjoyed while they’re warm. So, in my course menu, for example, we have main dishes that use premium seasonal ingredients like the Abalone porridge, the Matsutake mushrooms, and the Pufferfish. This way, we provide two exciting parts throughout the course so that it will be enjoyable for the customers. This kind of variation is important in order to make our customers happy.
Any other things that you pay attention to when serving the customers?
Maybe it’s the ability to change with the times. I would eat at reputable restaurants when I was young, but now, by going to different restaurants as a customer, besides being able to check out the food and service, I can also check whether what I do at my restaurant is in line with the trend.
Recently, not only do we need the element of surprise, I also thought the concept of “going to a specific restaurant for a specific dish” was brilliant. It means we need to prepare a dish that represents the restaurant. So, in our courses, without changing the basics like the Plate of Namul, Jeon, and Abalone porridge, we provide elements of surprise in the ingredients and presentation.
The staff will be taught everything they want to know. The “Hoba-style” dream.
You have chosen your career as well as cuisine type based on family circumstances. It sounds like everything has gone smoothly because of your clear life plans, your hard work, and your flexible attitude. What were some difficulties you faced in your life as a chef?
That would of course be when we didn’t get any customers. When we just opened, nobody came to our restaurant. How did we overcome it… This isn’t about the Namul I talked about previously, but we tried to cherish the customers who do come and catch what they are looking for. In order to do that, I looked back to the many experiences I had when interacting with the customers when I worked as a server during my time working for Fujio Food System.
At Tenjinbashi, the restaurant was run by you, your wife, and your mother. For your new re-opening, it seems like you have hired three new staff members. How do you train your staff?
I will answer any questions the staff has, and I also want to pass on the knowledge I gained from my experiences as well as the recipes to the staff without the need for hiding anything. It’s not like the past, where staff are expected to “learn by watching.” Also, I take them out to other restaurants. When someone has a place they want to go, we go there together and after that we would share our thoughts on that place.
Currently, I have a staff member who used to work at a high class barbeque restaurant. He’s very good at dressing meat, but he has hardly any experience in preparing an a la carte dish. So, we are having him learn the recipe of Namul from step one. Together with this staff member, I met upwith eS KOYAMA’s Chef Koyama who happens to be an acquaintance whom I admire. Chef Koyama told this staff member directly, “Stick with one thing for three years. If you don’t persist, there is no meaning in it.” I think that left an impression on my staff member. I think having my staff members interact with people other than me is also a nice opportunity to learn something new.
That sounds like a valuable experience. Certainly, interacting with other chefs is also an important way of learning.
That’s right. I think that to a chef, connections are a very important asset. I myself am also a member of a gathering with members who were born in 1974 or 1975 like me, e.g. Chef Saki (Takayuki) of “Sushiminaduki” in Oebashi and Suzuki (Koji) of La Lucciola” in Fukushima, and I learn a ton of things from there. The network has also spread beyond the boundaries of our cuisine genres. For example, Chef Mori (Yoshifumi) of the long-established Kahala in Kitashinchi and food critic Mr. Kadogami is also part of the group. I am very grateful for this. Therefore, I also want my staff to feel the importance of these connections.
What kind of staff do you want to work with? Do you have any ideal qualities that you look for?
I want to work with people who want to become independent or have their own goals. As one can expect, if the person “just wants to work here”, they usually don’t last. Also, someone who likes learning new things or have a sense of curiosity. At the same time, it’s also important to have the perserverance to thoroughly master something. It’s quite difficult, though.
Oh, right, I also want to work with people who are from different backgrounds like French, Chinese, or Japanese cuisine. Not only are the dishes different, but each genre also has different ways in the presentation of seasonal foods and the way of serving customers. I think if it matches the TPO and suits the customer’s needs, it’s fine. I’ll be glad to try serving customers in a new style, just like how I had combined Korean and Italian cuisine.
Finally, do you have a dream for the future?
My dream… yes. Currently, we don’t have enough manpower for it, but I want to increase the number of staff in the near future so we can create Korean desserts or new dishes, as well as improving our menu.
Also, not only with Japanese restaurants, in French and Italian restaurants, there is a system of training under one restaurant, then becoming independent by starting one’s own restaurant. However, there isn’t a system like this for Korean restaurants as many Korean restaurants are generally family-run. That’s why, when many staff members of my restaurant start their own businesses, I hope that one day there will be a new wave of “Hoba style” restaurants.
(interviewer:Osamu Saito writer:Yasuyo Miyazaki photographer:Wakana Nohya)