The big culture shock in the French training
What sort of things did you learn about at the French school?
First, I lived in a dormitory for half a year where I lived and ate with other students. After that, I went to France to train for half a year. The only thing we could eat at the dormitory was French foods. Since the classes were also very hard, there were several people that quit in the middle. Later, we trained at France, but the place I trained at was a restaurant at a hotel that was one hour away from Lyon. The only French I knew was the very little I learned before going to France, so I struggled to keep up with the communication by frantically memorizing the technical terms in the kitchen. (Laughs) It was funny that me, who had never even been to Hawaii or Korea, was suddenly living in and working at a kitchen in France… There were many instances of culture shock where I realized how different different parts of the world can be. I didn’t even have the time to be lonely. I absorbed every bit of information like a sponge, and it ended up becoming a great experience where I learned to polish my creativity.
Becoming the first female staff at a first-class French restaurant.
How was returning to Japan?
After returning from France, I thought, now is the only time to learn as much as I can of French food! So I knocked on the gates of BISTRO vingt-cinq, the most popular and most strict French restaurant in Osaka at the time. At the interview, I was told, “Honestly, it’s the first time that a woman has come to interview for a position here. You may be feeling doubts and concerns, but we are feeling the same thing.” But I was extremely thankful that they hired me to see how it would go, and I thought, I really have to be of use to them! Directly after joining the restaurant, I worked at service. I could only join the kitchen when there’s openings, and there were people that were waiting for openings after 2 or 3 years. I was able to join the kitchen after one and a half years, but of course I did the grunt work. I would help with the patissier, help with the hors d’oeuvre, or go back to doing service when there wasn’t enough people.
The kitchen was filled with people aiming to be the best at what they do, so everyone was an overachiever. Even during breaks, people would be studying English or trying to analyze a professional book for cooking… Everyone on the staff had such high standards, and I was stimulated and felt firsthand what it meant to be a first class chef. Because I was the first female staff, at first, everyone was a little skeptical of me, and I had to prove my sincerity. I was just trying hard so that no one would tell me, “We don’t need women in the kitchen.” At first, I was accepted as a member of the staff, but there were parts where it was hard for me physically and even more, mentally. For example, when I would watch a chef cook, he would yell at me to not watch him. But I would let that get to me, thinking that I was not allowed to watch, and stop myself from watching. However, when you are suddenly told to do something and you don’t know how to do it, they yell at you, saying, “Were you not watching?” (Laughs) There was actually one more female staff that started working after me, but she had more of a strong will and was able to keep up even after being yelled at. The 3 years of training taught me firsthand that you need strength in your heart to be successful.
After training at “BISTRO vingt-cinq,” I realized that I still wanted to work in Japanese food. I found a culinary restuarant called “Ikkyu” in Soemon-Cho that had a wanted ad for service. I jumped in, practically begging, “I’ll do anything you want me to do, so please let me work here!” After working there for about a year, the head chef asked me, “Do you want to try cooking?” I was so happy that I automatically answered, “Please!” (Laughs) But I was not unhappy with my job of carrying the foods, because I was happy doing anything, as long as it was in the restaurant business. That mindset was caused by the fact that there were very little women in the industry. So I was able to help with the cooking, such as cutting up the green onions and lining up the spices. I also worked here for 3 years, but at that time I was in my 30s. I realized that my “soul-searching,” although fulfilling, should be replaced with learning the practical skills needed to accomplish my dreams.