Going to France by myself at the age of 19. Performing in the society of merit system and became a chef when I was only 23 years old.
Then you stayed in France for 12 years, right?
In the beginning I entered a place like a bistro in Loire area with trainee visa.
I had been training at restaurants with at the certain toughness, so I was thinking that I could get by at any restaurants, but it was more than I imagined.
The chef would blame me all his mistakes, and he was a little violent. Even if I tried to fight back, I had no idea what to do as he jabbered in French. And the kitchen is the worst environment that there were only 2 of us, the chef and myself who was a trainee. There are many days with not much to do and atmosphere of the restaurant is darker, and I started to think it was not fun at all.
However, since it was a tourist destination, upon entering in November it became 3 business days on weekend, and I started to hold restaurant events at home just like my high school time. It was very fun indeed.
I talked to people, who I met at a bar in front of my house, and started from 4 people limited at the price around 1500 yen to 2000 yen. I was really glad when everyone said, “It is very delicious.”. It became busier than the restaurant.
As there became connection in the town, I figured out that the reputation of the chef at the restaurant where I worked was not good. People in neighbor told me, “I like you but I am not going there.”. I decided to move out at the timing of renewal of the contract.
Did you move to another restaurant after that?
Next anyhow I wanted to work at the restaurant which has energy, and moved to “La Maison de la Lozère” after eating and searching many places during the winter vacation. It was a restaurant in Montpellier of south France and the name has been changed now.
In South France staff and customers are very cheerful and this time it was very fulfilling days. It was like a restaurant that never stops full-booking so we were always busy and I was allowed to do various jobs while thinking as much as I could. Then soon after that I became a chef of hors d’oeuvre and became a sue chef on my second year.
It was a world of merit system indeed.
Absolutely. In France if you are motivated and can do job, you can go up to the higher position rapidly. Even after becoming a chef of hors d’oeuvre, I entered the restaurant earlier than the chef and got my job almost done.
By doing so I became available so I helped fish or meat section or supported when there was a sudden spot for sick or resigning, so for the chef I was very useful trainee, I think,
And in this time I asked the meat shop where skilled meat craftsman was and trained how to handle meat and cut it. After 2 years the former coworker, who left before me, asked me, “One starred restaurant in Loire area is looking for a chef for meat section. You can do it so why don’t you join?”.
It was “Auberge Dou Bon Laboureur”. There I became a chef on my second year and I was able to get a working visa.
You became a chef on your 3rd year in France. What was the key?
Chefs in France are required not only cooking skills but also ability of management.I liked calculating and was good at managing stocks in the first place, so it was big that I knew the stocks of food materials in the restaurant more than others.
When the owner suddenly asked, “We got a reservation for a group of 30 people, but what can we serve?”, I answered immediately, faster than anyone else.I also brought up ideas for the menu making and also took some part of work for a chef. So when the owner asked me, “Do you want to do a chef?”, I immediately responded, “I can do it.”.
For me there was one period in 15 years for a craftsman.I started training of cooking at the age of 8 years or so and had a plan to become a chef when I was 23 years old. So I was very happy when it came true.
Obtaining skills that was second to none became a confident as a chef.
Chef who is a foreigner and on his early 20s. You must be under intense pressure from people around you, right?
I was the 2nd youngest of 15 people who worked there in the kitchen and it was no way in Japan.
As I was in the top position, I could really see when the people who tried to climb up from the bottom tends to be against me. In France there is no such feelings of “respecting superiors” like Japan. It is more like, “What can you do?”.
But even in that environment I had no worries at all. Because I had a strong confident on my skills that were 2nd to none on meat, fish, dessert, and all other points. In anyways I put on effort on talking them off, or teaching my skills to them proactively.
The thing I felt it was very interesting working with French people is that once they knew that it was helpful for them, they became very humble. People say they have such high pride, but that is because they are confident of being better than the opponents. When they admitted that they could not be better, they started to respect a lot.
It is a reasonable way of thinking that they have. Was there any tips to lead those staff?
When I worked at 3 starred restaurant called, “Esperance”, located in Vézelay of Bourgogne area, as a substitute for a chef who was on vacation, there was this thing happened. A chef, who did not like me, started saying things to me loudly.
So when he was cutting meat, I started like, “You are slow, do it faster.”.
Then I called everyone and proposed a match on which can cut meat faster and more neatly in front of all the staff.
As a result, of course I won. This one action changes their ways of seeing me.
Making cooking skills to a match is like a cooking comic. It is a boldy story line.
In Japan losers happen to be jealous or sulking, but it is different for French people.
At the next moment the match was over, he asked me for a drink. Then as we drank he would ask me, “Where did you learn that?”, and, “How can I master it?”one after another.
He was way older than I was but he obediently admitted his loss, and still tried to improve himself. Isn’t that great? I really liked that characteristics of French people.
After than you worked as a chef at local restaurants until you returned to Japan, but had you ever thought about moving to Paris?
I had received offers from restaurants in Paris several times, but in many cases they requested menu with elements of Japan like, “Add Sushi into the menu.”, and, “Let’s add wasabi to beef.”.
From my menu that I came up with I had wanted to cook something that would make French people say, “Did Japanese guy really think about this?”, so I thought it was different.
So I did not stick with Paris but chose my work place where I could cook my food.
I worked total of 4 years at “Bon Laboureur” then worked for a year and a half at the restaurant in Limoges and at the end I served as a chef at “Auberge Dou Schoenenbourg” , located in Elsàss area for 3 years and returned to Japan for independence.
It was the end of 12 years of life in France.