As a team, you can accomplish things that are impossible as an individual
Are you in charge of hiring staff at “Ren,” Mr. Mishina?
Since there is staff mobility between “Ishikawa,” “Kohaku,” and “Ren,” someone from all 3 restaurants are involved in interviewing. I think we are less likely to see a gap between the impressions at the interview and actual capability at work, when hiring process is overseen from multiple angles.
What are your hiring standards?
First and foremost, I look for “meekness.” It is difficult to teach someone whose sense of self is too strong, and when someone like that makes food for the customers, his sense of “self” comes out first. Instead, if a person simply enjoys the act of cooking, or can think, “would the customers be pleased with this food?”, it positively affects the quality of his food.
In the 3 restaurants, there are many staff members who have been working at the restaurants for a long time. You have been working with Mr. Ishikawa for more than 10 years. Have you ever considered establishing independence?
Since Oyassan has so many ideas wanting “to make a style of Japanese food that has never been seen before,” he gives the staff opportunities to challenge ourselves, so for me, I did not have room to think about going independent. It is great to have your own restaurant, but if you work as a team, you can accomplish things that you cannot accomplish alone.
Also, Oyassan has a significant role. We can really tell that he loves everyone from the bottom of his heart. He is very strict in the kitchen, but he never carries it over to the next day, so everyone loves him. I have a strong desire to continue working with Oyassan and Mr. Koizumi.
When I interviewed Mr. Ishikawa, I heard that when staff quits, he cries saying, “I did a terrible thing.”
He is very emotional. Staff can either be meant for or not meant for the job, and sometimes, younger staff come talk to me that they cannot get used to the strict work environment in the kitchen. When that happens, I always tell them about my personal experience. “Initially, I could not get used to the athlete-type attitude, and right after I started my training, I kept getting scolded. So, I was always thinking about running away. However, there are things you will eventually discover through persistence.” They are relieved when they hear this and say, “even Mr. Mishina went through such phase.”
I think it would be amazing when Miso soup starts appearing on dinner tables in foreign countries.
Lastly, could you tell me about your dreams for the future?
Let’s see. As a near-term goal, I would like every customer to be pleased with his/her visit to “Ren.” I am always thinking about ways to accomplish this. As a broader goal, I would like to spread the culture of Japanese cuisine across international borders and time. Japanese people incorporate food from various countries, and it is not rare to see Western or Chinese food on a dinner table. Similarly, I think it would be amazing when Miso soup starts appearing on dinner tables in foreign countries.
Is it like having people learn deliciousness of Japanese food at its roots, and steadily establish its acceptance?
Yes. Due to the effect of the Michelin stars, we recently see many customers from abroad. I think it is important to first satisfy them. I started studying English, in order to be able to talk about Japanese food even a little bit more profoundly.
Perhaps there are things you learn from the responses of foreign customers?
Things that seem mundane to us could be novel for the foreign customers. For example, they would be impressed by the knife skills to create“snake-belly cut” of pickled cucumber. They remind me of the attractiveness of Japanese cuisine. I would like to continue spreading such attractiveness by standing at the counter every day, and thoroughly doing my job.
(interviewer: Osamu Saito, writer: Ayako Izumi, photographer: Tomoyasu Osakabe)