If you repeat the same thing again and again, you get the same result. If you want a different outcome, you need to try something different.

Kei Kojima


His days in France and the presence of Franck Cerutti, making a huge impact on his life

What kind of restaurant was your first workplace in France?

Mr. Kojima :
I worked at a restaurant in Lyon called Christian Tetedoie, which is the name of the chef there. It was a small restaurant in town and the kitchen was also very small. When I went upstairs to put down my stuff after arriving at the restaurant, I saw a very small, dark room and I thought it was a strange room. I found out that it was actually a kitchen.
There was another chef other than the head chef but he quit some months later. I had already gotten used to working there so I was able to get along with the head chef.
As we were a pair, he took care of me very well and I eventually worked there for one and a half years. It was a small restaurant but he was such a skilled chef who had experience working in famous restaurants. He connected me with a restaurant near the Spanish border.

I heard that you traveled around Italy before moving to the next workplace. What was the purpose of that trip?

Mr. Kojima :
My purpose was to eat at Franck Cerutti’s restaurant. Franck used to work at a restaurant in Hotel Negresco when he was in his early 20s. A chef of the restaurant, Jacque Maximan, was a good friend of the madam at Enoteca Pinchiorri. She was from Nice and used to come visit him. One day, the madam told Jacque that she was looking for a talented chef and was wondering if he knew of anyone. Then, he introduced Franck. That’s how he moved to Enoteca Pinchiorri at the age of 24. I was able to gain this kind of information from a magazine – even though I was still in Japan – plus the head chef of the Italian restaurant I used to work at had also worked at Enoteca Pinchiorri. I knew there was a talented young French chef there, so I knew about Franck.

Franck Cerutti is a chef born in Nice, France. Mr. Kojima looks up to him as his mentor and says he is one of his best friends. He is currently head chef at Hôtel de Paris, which includes Le Louis XV in Monaco.

A five-star hotel in Nice, France. It was opened in 1913 and has over 100 years of history. Many celebrities stay at this hotel, and it is considered a traditional suit-and-tie restaurant.

A French chef. He is one of the persons who took the food industry by storm in the 1980s.

A restaurant which has its main location in Florence, Italy. It earned three Michelin stars in 1993 for its tasty dishes which are often paired with wine.

So you went to Enoteca Pinchiorri to see Franck.

Mr. Kojima :
No, he was asked to come back to France to work as a chef at Le Louis XV in Monaco, which was going to be opened soon by Ducasse.
I was already in France so I thought I would want to eat at Le Louis XV then. However, Franck opened a restaurant called Don Camillo in Nice, his hometown. So I wanted to go to this restaurant. I visited Enoteca Pinchiorri, too. The madam who talked to me said, “Are you Japanese?” “Are you a chef?” So I told her that I am supposed to go to Don Camillo in Nice. Then she said, “Franck used to work as a chef here. That’s a great restaurant so you should go. I can call him.” So she contacted him for me.

The official name is Le Louis XV – Alain Ducasse à l’Hôtel de Paris. The restaurant is in one of the most famous high-class hotels, Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. It earned three Michelin stars.


So you were able to work at Don Camillo thanks to her help. How was Mr. Franck’s restaurant, the one you really wanted to work at?

Mr. Kojima :
I felt his cuisine suited my preference as soon as I ate the first dish. I still remember what I ate there. The first dish was terrine and the second dish was fish. There was lamb after that, then cheese, dessert and so on… I remember everything. I still have the receipt.
I was so fascinated and thought I wouldn’t be able to go home if I didn’t work here. I asked them to meet Mr. Franck and told him I wanted to work there. However, he didn’t accept it right away. He said I can leave my contact information so I left my phone number.

How did you spend the time after coming back from the trip?

Mr. Kojima :
I was working at the second restaurant. However, every day I longed to go back to Nice and work at that restaurant… My Japanese friend introduced me to the following restaurant which he was working at. It was Alain Chapel. *8  One day, Mr. Franck called me and said, “One of the chefs I worked with quit recently. Would you like to come?” Of course I said yes! And we decided I would start working there in a month. Therefore, I was supposed to quit Alain Chapel.
However, he called me on the day before my scheduled start day saying, “I am sorry but I can’t hire you!” At that time, I had a visa issue and it hadn’t been solved yet. Therefore, someone said to him that he shouldn’t hire that Japanese guy… That day, Alain Chapel’s chef asked me to go for a drink together for my farewell. I was supposed to get a drink with him. He bought me champagne and cheered me up, saying “Good luck!” and so I told him that I was actually rejected. Then he said, “Then you should stay here.” So I was able to continue to work at Alain Chapel.

He earned three Michelin stars and an MOF at the youngest age and is one of the chefs who influenced the French cuisine industry most. He passed away at the age of 52. Mr. Kojima started working about three weeks after he passed away.

After that, you moved to Mr. Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant.

Mr. Kojima :
It was when Mr. Pierre was in his 30s and when there was a branch in Saint Etienne, not in Paris. I was introduced to the restaurant. I already registered at a college so I was able to work on my student visa. I barely went to college though.
After a while, I got a phone call from Mr. Franck. I told him how I was doing and he said to me, “If you are on a student visa, you can work part-time. Would you like to come?” I said yes immediately. I told Mr. Gagnaire about it and he said “If there is a place you really want to work at, you should go.” Then I quit his restaurant.

He is a three-star chef and famous among French chefs. His traditional cooking combined with molecular gastronomy is well-respected by many.

Did you start working at Mr. Franck’s restaurant soon after?

Mr. Kojima :
I had a friend in Paris so I contacted Franck by phone and stayed there. However, after a couple of discussions over the phone, he said, “I was told that I wouldn’t be able to hire Japanese students as part-time workers.” When I heard that, I thought I wouldn’t be able to work at his restaurant anymore and would have to give up. Then he said, “I feel so sorry; you should at least come see me.” So I visited him and stayed about a week.

So you were dumped by him twice. After coming back, what did you do?

Mr. Kojima :
After staying at Mr. Franck’s place, I got a call from Mr. Tetedoie and he asked me how I was doing. He had expanded his restaurant after I quit. I told him I was not doing anything special, and then he asked me to come back. I decided to take him up on his offer again.
He told me, “I became a friend with a prefectural governor. I could probably solve your visa issue.” So, I visited the prefectural government office and applied for a visa. I was told that I would receive an official visa statement in two weeks; and I actually received it, so I finally got an official work visa.


So you gave up working at Mr. Franck’s restaurant.

Mr. Kojima :
Well, no. I couldn’t give up working at his restaurant as I couldn’t forget my feelings about working there. So I told him I would quit after a year. However, he explained that since they supported my visa application, it would be a bit troublesome for them if I quit that soon. So he would need me to stay a bit more. I totally understand how he felt. I felt that I wouldn’t be able to quit that easily, and felt bad, but I told them a lie that I would need to go back to Japan so I had no choice but to quit. I feel so bad about doing that. As soon as I quit the restaurant, I went to Nice and started working at Mr. Franck’s restaurant as I had dreamt of. It had been three years already since I first went to his restaurant to eat. I really wanted to work there for such a long time, so it was so much fun every day. I decided to go back to Japan after five years of working in France. I was 33 at the time. I thought I wouldn’t be able to go home if I didn’t leave then. I never considered living in France for good so I thought it would be good timing for me to go back to Japan at that age.

You finished your first apprenticeship in France. I am very curious – after you told Mr. Tetedoie that lie, did he find out?

Mr. Kojima :
Well, actually he already knew. A couple of years after I started working at Franck, a service staff told me that someone was there to see me. I saw the customer sheets and found his wife.
I remember thinking she was very scary… but that I needed to give up. So I came up to her and apologized. Then she said she actually knew I was working here. Mr. Franck was famous enough that many chefs had visited the restaurant. Mr. Tetedoie was one of those chefs and he had already heard from someone that “the Japanese chef who was working at Christian Tetedoie” was there. On that day, Mr. Tetedoie was in Nice to participate in a cooking contest. She said to me, “He asked me to take you to the contest, so let’s go. It will finish in the afternoon.” I went there to apologize but he said “You don’t need to hesitate to come see me.” He forgave me.

I see. Even if there was an issue between you two, he cared about you and it proves that you were loved by the people around you.




10th Floor Chanel Ginza Building 3-5-3 Ginza, Chuou-ku, Tokyo
3-min walk from Exit A13 of Ginza Station on the Tokyo Metro

3-min walk from Exit 5 of Ginza Ichome Station on the Tokyo Metro

5-min walk from JR Yuraku-cho Station
Hours Lunch 11:30-16:00 (last order at 14:00)

Dinner 18:00-23:30 (last order at 20:30) 

Closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, summer vacation, and New Year’s holidays