The key point that made a restaurant loved by locals
Have you had the idea, having your own restaurant in France, since the start of your training in France ?
Yes. Actually I wanted to run a restaurant at the age of 25, but I gave up because I did not have enough money. I realized that “passion is crushed by the lack of money”. After I came to France and met my current wife Marine, she saved money for the future and I could be ready for entrepreneurship. Because she is in charge of managing all of the financial and adminisitarative things, I do not even know the sales of the restaurant. For the moment I make good results, so she will not tell me any details. Regarding pricing and purchasing, she doesn’t say anything to me as far as I continue to make these good results.
This restaurant was relocated in Reims. The regular client who introduced the relocation destination is the current owner of this place when the “Racine” was in the first place. This place was not for a restaurant at all before we started. We broke some walls and renovated here. As the result of no existance of restaurant before, there was no need to buy goodwill, so we pay only rent fees. In order to make it a restaurant as I imagined, I ordered the size of the chair / table all the way up to the centimeter. The cork oak is used as a flooring material so as not to strain the foot. Since I just opened it, I have some other ideas which aren’t realized yet. I would like to renovate the garden in the future. I have many ideas such as interior decorating with curtains for quietness. These have to be done little by little.
I want to relocate the restaurant to the center of a vineyard someday. I would like to make a restaurant that is close to perfection with fewer seats than now with no defects.
Do you feel any pressure to maintain a Michelin star ?
I do not feel Michelin stars as a pressure. I am confident that I am working properly.
Because I have worked at three stars or two stars (restaurants), I can see what they are. Those restaurants are by no means outstanding compared to others.
Since those many restaurants have many seats, cooking should be served anyway. Somewhat compromise may occur. If one process fails, all 60 dishes have to be remade again.
What is the origin of the name of your restaurant, Racines ?
When I was talking with various makers of Champagne, it was said that roots are important. Marine and me are a starting point. Guests who came to the restaurant and spent a good time would talk to other people about this restaurant, then the topic spreads like the roots grow up and branche off. I thought that would be nice if the restaurant’s reputation grew in that way. I named it as “Racine (= root)” in this image.
Why did you choose Reims in Champagne region?
My wife ‘s family was running a bar in Reims, so when I visited Reims at Christmas time, I noticed the potential of this place. It is famous as the place of production of Champagne, people from all over the world visit here. Moreover, it is close to Paris and it is in a place where you can come by train in 45 minutes. These are the strength of this place.
It is also known as a restaurant where reservation for dinner is difficult to obtain. What kind of customers are coming to the restaurant ?
To reserve a lunch, usually you have to wait one month. For dinner, usually you have to wait for one and a half month to two months. The tables are taken by Champagne makers, local people near Reims, Paris and regulars from all over the world. Approximately half of our customers are foreigners. Distant regulars visit us twice a year. Those people always make a reservation for the next time when they come to the restaurant. There are regulars who come 14 times a year every 3 weeks when the course menu changes. Repeaters rate is high, half of clients are people who revisit. Makers of Champagne introduce this restaurant to many people. It seems that the restaurant is booked fully all the time like this because the city of Reims has a lot of restaurants who serve classical French dishes.
You have a very good relationship with the landlord, who is also a regular, and everyone in Reims city and its suburbs.
I am doing well for the landlord. We will settle immediately as soon as there are noises in the neighborhood, and road construction by Reims City, which takes place in front of the shop, is done only on a day that is not the restaurant’s business day. It is encouraging. I often introduce customers from producer of champagne. I wad awarded a medal from Reims City. Amo,g restaurants in Reimns, only the Michelin 3-star “L’Assiette Champenoise”, the 2 star “Les Clayères” and my restaurant “Racine” have gotten this medal from Reims City.
I have a field of herbs 40 minutes by car from the store. On the day when the shop’s business is off, I also do farm work. We could rent this cultivation by an offer from local people.
What he telles to his staffs as a manager. Future perspectives.
How many people are working here ? Also, what is your future plan of this restaurant ?
4 Japanese are working in the kitchen and 3 French are working in the hall. The kitchen demands sztailed work, so Japanese people are tend to be able to continue to work.
Currently we have 15 guests per service. As this property is large enough, the landlord has thought we will have 30 to 40 people per service. I alredy have determened to have 15 clients from the beginning, so I told him, “I do not have that many”.
In the future, I would like to reduce the number of customers to 12 and raise the level of one dish to a restaurant without faults. Therefore, the number of staff in the kitchen may increase by one person.
My dish has a lot of process. Some dishes take about 5 minutes to make a plate.
I believe that the dish of meat is simply the fourth dish and I do not think it is necessary to be caught up by the order of the French traditional menu as a rule, such as, appetizers, fish, meat. In the future I will not stick to that order. I want to cook so as not to erase the goodness of the ingredients. Also I would like to cook dishes that I can not do elsewhere. I am always conscious of how customers will evaluate.
How do you recruit talents ? Also, what kind of things are you paying attention to when you hire them ?
We put recruitment advertisements on the net, but rural areas are really hard to hire. I need people who are motivated and who can win over themselves. Whatever you do, you are absolutely forced to choose. You will compromise if you give weaknesses within yourself. So I ask for someone who can win. Even if they aren’t so right now, I will nurture them so that they can become such a person.
What are you always telling to the staff to share your esprit ?
“Consider it as a dish for the most important person for you when you make a dish.” The kitchen is so calm during the service. There is no conversation. There is no hurry to do work, so I give the team much time to use for making a dish carefully. I say, “For example, even when you make 15 dishes, imagine making one dish to one person, with thinking that it is the last dish of your most important person.” Then you can make a great dish if you think from the goal when you making it. Whatever you do, it is a fight with yourself. To finish it carefully with a polite job until the end and put it out. Because the appearance of the kitchen is conveyed to the customer through the finished product.
Please give me a message to young chefs.
Win myself. Anyone can give up. If you win yourself, the perfection of cooking will inevitably increase.
I think that it would be good if you do something different from other people so that you can think that you are an interesting chef. Then those who cooperate with you will appear.
How do you depict the future prospects?
I do not know my future yet. I hope to get 2 stars by 2022. It is unknown how long I can continue working at the same pace. I am anxious about if my physical strength is the same as now after I turned 45 years old. I might make a big turn, such as quitting a chef (laugh).
As of now, I will carry on my full strength as my body will hold until 2022. I never leave the kitchen so far.
(Interviewer:Ishikuro Yoko, Text:Ishikuro Yoko, Photo:Pierre-Olivier)