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Villa Aida
Kanji Kobayashi

Villa Aida Kanji Kobayashi

Meeting with chefs who knew the methods to make local ingredients better.

Was there any meeting or opportunity which changed your way of thinking during these four years in Italy?

Mr. Kobayashi :
When working in various restaurants, I realized that every chef thinks their local ingredients are the best. For example, chefs obtain quality beef from all over Japan or all over the world based on the quality standard in Japan. In a restaurant in northern Italy, I was told that the meat in that area was the best; so when I went to the south and asked them why they don’t use meat from the north, they said, “No! Our local meat is the best!” People responded like this in every restaurant.

They should know the way to make their local ingredients even better. Do you think they are highly conscious about local production for local consumption?

Mr. Kobayashi :
Well, I don’t really think so because this is probably a natural thing for people. They have an idea of “not using the ingredients that are not there.” For example, there is a sauce called crème Anglaise, which is made from eggs, vanilla, and milk. In some parts of Italy, they use lemon skins in the recipe. I asked, “Why don’t you buy and use vanilla?” and they said, “That’s wrong! We don’t need to buy expensive ingredients that we don’t get in this area.” I learned there that it is very important to utilize the ingredients which you are able to get in your local area.
At that time, I thought it was just a normal thing, but it became a hint for me when I opened my restaurant.

I see. So it was a good learning experience after a while. I heard that you did your final apprenticeship at a three-star restaurant. What kind of experience did you get there?

Mr. Kobayashi :
I was fascinated with the style of cooking and how they treat the ingredients. I went and knocked on the door to ask to work there. It was the first three-star ristorante in southern Italy. It had 40 seats and was located in a small town on the south side of the Gulf of Naples.
It was a restaurant that served sophisticated versions of the local, traditional cuisine of southern Italy. They used vegetables and herbs grown in their garden and bought cheese from their friend’s farm.
I cooked fresh tomatoes which were harvested in summer and dried them to make spices. We use those ingredients during the best time of the year while also making them into different foods or spices that can be used the whole year.

So it was the origin of the current Villa Aida, which serves the best cuisine possible using ingredients grown by themselves.

Villa Aida table set

He opened a restaurant at which people can enjoy the authentic Italian cuisine in his local area.

After coming back from Japan, what did you do?

Mr. Kobayashi :
Firstly, I thought I would work at an Italian restaurant, so tried to look for a job through my friends’ connections or via job advertisements. However, there was no restaurant interested in me. Luckily, my parents had a farm so I was able to open a restaurant in part of the field. This is where I have my restaurant now. I came back in January, started construction in August, and opened the restaurant in December. Everything was very quick and one of the biggest reasons for the success was my parents’ support.

You are very brave to make such a decision – opening your own restaurant at the age of 25. What kind of feedback did you get?

Mr. Kobayashi :
The first three years went well. It’s so rural out here, people in the area basically want to visit whenever there is a new restaurant open. But after three years, the customers stopped coming. At the beginning, I cooked dishes which I learned at a Michelin-star restaurant using ingredients imported from Italy. However, I realized that those who visited my restaurant out of curiosity also stopped coming. I guess 5,000 yen was too expensive for a dinner, considering the area. Moreover, these local people were not familiar with authentic Italian cuisine. When I served espresso, they said “It’s too little.” or “It’s too bitter.” They prefer soft and sweet breads such as butter-enriched rolls more than crusty breads.

It sounds like it was very hard to compete with the authentic cuisine. How did you cope with these problems?

Mr. Kobayashi :
I had some financial problems so it became hard for me to import ingredients from Italy. Then I started paying attention to these local vegetables, such as tomatoes and cucumbers.
At that time, I finally understood why those Italian chefs with whom I did my apprenticeships were very persistent when it came to their local ingredients. At the same time, I felt like I had just realized the meaning of it all and thought, “What have I been doing til now..?!”
I was very happy that I was able to create my ideal restaurant so I tried to cook and serve very fancy dishes. When I recall, those restaurants at which I did my apprenticeships were all located in the outskirts of cities, but their customers always traveled more than one hour to get there. That was because there were original, unique dishes using the local ingredients – something they could only enjoy at these restaurants.

Villa Aida menu

Villa Aida appearance

Villa Aida


71-5 Kawaziri, Iwade-shi, Wakayama 〒649-6231

About 10 minutes from JR Iwade Station by car

11:30-14:00 (last entry at 13:30)

18:00-21:00 (last entry at 20:30)

Closed on Mondays (if Monday is a public holiday, the following day is closed.) ※Closed on one Tuesday each month