To succeed, you have to work hard for long hours
I hear that, in Japan, unless conditions improve, it is becoming difficult to attract enough young people to the catering industry.
A lot of people don’t want to work in this line of business because the work is hard. You can’t avoid that – if you want to succeed in this industry you must work hard. It’s the same in France. I’m very lucky to work with a great team; they are serious in their work and highly motivated. But you have to work harder and longer than the others. That’s the only way to do it – work hard for long hours. In Japan, the conditions are improving. The salaries are getting higher and it is now possible to take some days off.
What is important in a chef’s career?
It is really important to love your profession, to work a lot, to read a lot, to travel, to work more than the others, to be courageous and passionate. You have to work with your heart, and not be too focused on money. If you want to make money right away, it doesn’t work.
It’s not only about yourself – you have to think about your team. You shouldn’t train for too long in the same establishment, or else it becomes hard to get hired in a new place. And it’s hard for a young Japanese who has stayed in France too long to find a job. It’s the same for a French cook – it’s hard to come back to France to work after ten years of working in Japan. If you want to work in both Japan and France, then you should live in both places. I am constantly going back and forth between the two countries.
You fly around the world for promotional activities, don’t you? America, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Morocco, China, Singapore, Thailand, Uruguay… I even heard that you flew to Austin, Texas to cater President Bush’s election campaign.
It’s important to travel the world to expand your horizons and to get experience. Don’t be satisfied just staying in your narrow world. If you get a chance, go out there and go for it. Even at my age, I still take on new challenges.
What would you like to tell someone who’s starting his career?
Nurture your passion. Work with love. Don’t relax your efforts. Don’t be overconfident. Some people allow themselves to get a swelled head (he spreads both hands on both sides of his head). It’s dangerous. You have to remain simple and humble. Remember to respect your team, each member of your team, all the way down to the kitchen porter. Don’t forget to respect and be grateful to the clients. Don’t forget that by yourself you’re nothing.
Do you get a lot of Japanese applicants for work or training at Dominique Bouchet?
Yes. Just yesterday, I had one. I receive applications from Japanese cooks every week. I prefer applicants who have had a certain amount of experience. You also need a minimum level of French. One of my staff members who works at the reception in my Ginza restaurant wants to come and work in Paris. I told her that she should first learn some French. You can’t come to France and work if you don’t speak French. For cooks, it’s different – some of them couldn’t speak a single word of French when they first started here. They tried and learned the language, but it’s hard work. Effort is needed. Some people don’t make an effort. One Japanese staff worked here for a year. He stayed in the building where I live, but he didn’t go out in Paris. He just went back and forth from his room to the restaurant, without even trying to learn French. That was really a waste.
What are you looking for when you hire someone?
I want to see a nice face. I don’t mean someone handsome – I’m looking for sincerity in someone’s eyes. When I was twenty-four years old, Mr. Jamin hired me and told me, “You have a good face.” So now, I use my age and experience to get an impression from a face. I also look at the person’s attitude. From observing their attitude, you can tell if someone is courteous.
I am accustomed to Japanese people, but there is one thing I don’t like. It’s when I give specific instructions, but a staff member disregards them to do it his own way. To my face, he will nod and say: “Yes, yes,” but as soon as I disappear, he does things his own way. This is a lack of respect. Unfortunately, this also happens in Japan.
Do you think it’s possible for a Japanese cook to obtain a good chef position if he makes the effort?
Of course, it is. But it can’t happen overnight – you must pass through all the jobs and all of the steps until you reach the top. It takes a lot of hard work, and you can’t cut any corners.
Do you think that Japanese cooks can create original French dishes, not just reproductions of French cuisine?
I pride myself on knowing Japan well, but it would be conceited of me to say that I know Japanese cuisine the way Japanese people do.
What I don’t like is when young people who have been in France for a few years go back to Japan and declare: “I know everything about French cuisine. ” There is no such thing. Cooking is not that simple. Cooking is something you keep on learning for a lifetime.
You travel back and forth between Japan and Paris, right?
I go back and forth – two or three weeks in Paris and two or three weeks in Tokyo. I’m involved in everything. If my name is on the window, I don’t like to leave it to others. I’ve gone back and forth like this for a long time and I’m used to it now.
From age thirteen up to the present, at almost sixty four years old, he remains a cook whose cuisine follows a steady progression, according to his philosophy.
What is most important at the restaurant Dominique Bouchet?
I like simple things – such as a job well done. I don’t like fashionable cooking, fusion cooking… I’ve never followed trends. I don’t do molecular cuisine either. I’ve always stuck to my own philosophy: simplicity, consistency, good, fresh ingredients, and love. I don’t yield to today’s fashions – if you put flowers everywhere, we can’t tell if you’re a cook or a gardener!
I started cooking at age thirteen and I’ll be sixty-four in a week. I’m still here, and I’m very reliable. My cuisine is evolving very slowly, I look for the best products, I seek simplicity and regularity, and I pour a lot of love into what I’m making. I work with my heart. While I’m cooking, I’m thinking about the pleasure on my clients’ faces. I’m also thinking about my staff – if they’re not happy, they can’t make delicious food. So, I pay attention to whether they are happy when they come to work, whether they like the job, and whether they feel satisfied.
How do you create your new dishes?
It depends… Sometimes when I’m traveling, I get new ideas and I think that I’d like to do this or that. Sometimes I tell Masa in the kitchen, “I’d like to do this.” And he makes the trials.
In my cooking, sauces are crucial. To make a good sauce you need to have very good technique. Masa (the chef of the Paris restaurant) is a very good saucier (sauce maker).
What is your desire for the future?
Nothing in particular – remaining healthy and being able to pursue my work. It’s vital for me to work with people I like. I can’t have business partners or work with cooks that I don’t like. For me, it’s really important. In your work, it’s like in a couple. You must get along well, or otherwise it doesn’t work.
It’s in fashion to use Japanese ingredients in French cooking, but you don’t do this. Is it the same in your restaurants in Japan?
In France, I don’t use Japanese ingredients. In Japan, I use a lot of local products; I don’t rely only on imports. Roe deer comes from Hokkaido, beef comes from Miyazaki, and vegetables and chicken come from Aomori. Bur it’s not the same as some French cooks who go to Japan from time to time and add yuzu or wasabi in their dishes – the taste is totally different, so it is not French cuisine anymore. The only Japanese ingredient I use is sake to marinate foie gras.
So you travel around Japan to discover ingredients?/
Yes, I do. I like traveling in Japan. I visited Aomori, Kesennuma, Hokkaido, Ibaraki, Nagano. I went to find various things. I am planning to go to Kagoshima and Arita next year.
And finally, could you please give us a brief idea of your philosophy, for the young cooks who don’t know about you yet?
Work harder than anybody else. Don’t be like French people, who only think about holidays. Cooking is a very tough profession – it’s a path that’s very demanding. I arrived here at 7:30 this morning, and there are so many things to do. I still have plenty of ideas and plans, I feel as if I were twenty. This year I’m going to make osechi, a traditional Japanese gift basket, but of course it will be filled with French goodies. This is something I’ve never done before. I’m really happy.
(Interview, text: Akiko AWA, pictures: Hiroki TAGMA, restaurant pictures: courtesy of Dominique Bouchet)
Tel.: +33 1 45 61 09 46
Address：11 rue Treilhard, 75008 Paris FRANCE
Metro: Miromesnil, line 9 and 13
Hours: noon to 2pm, 7:30 to 21:30pm
Closed on Saturdays and Sundays
Dominique Bouchet Tokyo
Address：Renga Street Fukujin Building 2F, 1-5-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Bistro Les Copains de Dominique Bouchet
Address：Ginza MS Bldg B1F, 5-1-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Closed on Sundays