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.

BEIGE ALAIN DUCASSE TOKYO
Kei Kojima

BEIGE ALAIN DUCASSE TOKYO Kei Kojima

Life after coming back to Japan. Making original tastes in a position from which he needs to teach others.

How did everything go after coming back as a professor at ADF+TSUJI?

Mr. Kojima :
I worked in a position in which I was required to teach staff. Moreover, I was able to reconfirm my ways of cooking and the reasons behind them, which was good. By teaching someone, I learned how to communicate to people. I was pretty quiet before. My old friends still tell me I don’t speak much. I became talkative thanks to the experiences there.

These things are very useful when teaching others. Aside from simply giving directions to the chefs in the kitchen, there are situations when I feel they are very useful.

Other than that, when do you feel it becomes useful?

Mr. Kojima :
I hold an irregular cooking event called Cooking Lecture in which I demonstrate my cooking. I am responsible for all the talking so when I concentrate on cooking too much, it becomes very quiet. So I need to take action to make the atmosphere better.

Depending on the atmosphere, the participants will ask me questions and feel more comfortable. To keep them happy, I need to take some kind of action. If they become quiet, I think of something they may be interested in. I think about a lot of things and talk. I guess I’ve improved my talking..!

You are now a successful head chef at Beige Alain Ducasse Tokyo.

Mr. Kojima
I came here in 2010, eight years ago. Before I started working here, I didn’t have a clear idea of how I wanted to run this restaurant or what kind of food I wanted to create. I didn’t even care about what kind of food the former chefs created.
All I thought about was whether customers would enjoy our food and whether it is suitable to be served in Ginza. I struggled and faced challenges and took eight years to reach where I wanted to be. I think Ducasse respects individual character traits so he only speaks up when there is something he thinks wrong. That’s why he respects how I work.

How do you work with Mr. Ducasse?

Mr. Kojima :
There is no detailed direction at this restaurant. It is like how I got the responsibilities at Louis XV in Monaco from Franck. However, when he visits Japan, he checks the food we make. He tastes the dishes and give us advice, saying, “You should serve it this way,” or “Can you make this sauce like this?” and so on. He gives me advice out of his experiences. I really think he gives me very practical feedback.

BEIGE ALAIN DUCASSE TOKYO cuisine

©Pierre Monetta

I guess Mr. Ducasse and you are like foils of each other, as he doesn’t give you detailed directions to you. Is there anything you take special care with when running his restaurant?

Mr. Kojima :
As a chef at Ducasse’s restaurant, I know the set of processes from cooking to serving in my head, as I learned at Louis XV in Monaco. It doesn’t change in a different country, as long as it is his restaurant, so I still perform the same processes here. There is no particular rule in this restaurant so I don’t really have to care about any other things as a chef at his restaurant. However, there is something I take very importantly.

What is that?

Mr. Kojima :
To choose ingredients carefully, keeping good relationships with the producers and respecting them. For example, I accept and buy all the vegetables they grow for us even if it is too much to use all at once – because they grew them only for us.

Even if I think something like, “I would like to buy bigger green peas, and these are quite small…” I will instead adjust my cooking to those ingredients. The vegetables depend on the climate and are not the same every time. If the producers are careless and irresponsible, we may point it out, but even in that case, we won’t be able to keep a good relationship with such people to begin with. I think Ducasse has the same feelings about that because he has experienced such situations. Just by looking at the food, he can deduce, “Well, you guys use quality ingredients. They prove that you get along well with the producers of these ingredients.” He knows everything, even if I don’t tell him.

I heard that you live in Kamakura and go to the local market every morning to choose vegetables on your own.

Mr. Kojima :
I still go to the market in Kamakura every morning. I used to carry everything myself but I wasn’t able to carry everything, and had lower back pain too, so I go to the delivery person’s office after buying the ingredients, and have them sent to the restaurant. So I became friendly with the delivery guys, too. I sent some this morning so they should arrive soon. I sometimes go to the market, even on my days off, depending on what vegetables we want to buy.

BEIGE ALAIN DUCASSE TOKYO cuisine

©Pierre Monetta

How do you tell young staff or chefs who came from other restaurants your ideas as a head chef?

Mr. Kojima :
Of course, I can’t make everything by myself so I try to make them understand my ideas.
To succeed in doing so, I give them directions, such as “You need to cook this and heat this at this point, then…” However, they don’t get it perfectly. When I was at Louis XV, I visited Franck to ask if I was able to get the taste of the sauce right when I wasn’t sure about it.
I tell them to cook on their own first, then ask them to show me the process of how they made it when I notice something isn’t right. Then I check how they cook. I give them more detailed directions at that point, such as how to cut the ingredients, the cooking temperature, adding butter or taking it out from the oven at some timing, etc. I also tell them why that is necessary. Otherwise, cooking may become just a process. Aside from that, they can think and feel however they need. I am not able to teach each one of them all the time so I only check some main points and then give them directions at that time.

What do you look for when you hire new chefs?

Mr. Kojima :
I show up to interviews but to be honest with you, I can’t discover anything there. So I hire them first. Those who are not suited for the work here, they quit soon, but there are others who settle well.
Whether they can continue or not depends on their patience. They need to do the same things for long hours every day, so it is not always fun. However, you can’t go to the next step if you can’t be patient with such work. So I think patience is key.

BEIGE ALAIN DUCASSE TOKYO Kei Kojima

What do you think is important for young chefs to know?

Mr. Kojima :
Cooking is like a sport. You need to imagine how you want to do something, and do imagery rehearsals. That’s the important thing. When things don’t go well, you need to think in other ways and try again. I sometimes give myself a hint to overcome. If you try things in the same way, you only get the same outcome. However, you may get a different outcome if you try something different from what you normally do. When you repeat that again and again you may be able to get a better outcome. Those who are told the same thing do the same thing every day. That’s why they get the same outcome.

By the way, I heard that you don’t often go to the customers’ tables. How do you see their reactions?

Mr. Kojima :
I don’t really like going to the tables because I won’t be able to go to each table equally. I only go when it’s necessary. Their reasons for visiting the restaurant are different. So, they may not need me to visit them.
I really appreciate that I am able to have busy days now. There is always a full house at lunch and there are so many customers coming in the evening too. If our food wasn’t good, they wouldn’t visit us again. So I guess the greatest feedback is in how our customers think about our food and keep coming back.
However, I ask our service staff about what customers say about the food and use them as references. I can’t see the customers’ reactions directly so I ask our service staff many times: “Are they happy with our food?” I sometimes ask them 30 or 40 times a day. Maybe I’m too annoying?!
When I ask them, “Are they happy?” sometimes they only say “Yes, everything’s great.” In that case, I ask again and again to get more precise feedback. I am satisfied when I am able to hear honest customer feedback precisely.

I see how you care about customers and their reactions even if you don’t visit their tables. What do you cherish most as a chef?

Mr. Kojima :
Cooking is not a process of completing tasks. I need to put my emotion in it, take immense care, and follow a certain method to be able to cook good food. I need to drive myself to do this, so it is quite hard.
However, I believe I need to do so to reach that level. To create a delicious dish, I think about what I need to do. There are many things, such as getting quality ingredients or putting in 100% effort, but the philosophy I always keep in mind is “do perfectly what I need to do.”

Please tell us about your future plans.

Mr. Kojima :
I don’t have any plan to have my own restaurant at the moment. I just want to make this restaurant popular and a place where people enjoy and are satisfied with the food.
Even so, it is not possible to make that happen by myself. It depends on different people what makes them satisfied. When I consider this, it is not possible to make everything perfect. So, I will think deeply every day, with struggles sometimes, and before I know it I’ll probably be 65 years old!
But when I keep doing the same things, the outcomes stay the same. I need to see something more and see better outcomes every day. So I always want to have a mindset that allows me to face more challenges.

(Interviewer: Osamu Saito, Text: Yoko Aramaki, Photography: Tomonari Osakabe)

BEIGE ALAIN DUCASSE TOKYO interior

BEIGE ALAIN DUCASSE TOKYO interior

BEIGE ALAIN DUCASSE TOKYO

Inquiry
03-5159-5500

Access
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
Hours Lunch 11:30-16:00 (last order at 14:00)

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

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