I started training as a chef in self-taught from 8 years old, and learned confectionery in the junior high school era.
Since when did you start thinking about becoming a chef?
Originally my mother liked cooking, and it was like a family that we invited people and served food, so I was in the kitchen from 1st grader of elementary and helped processing vegetables. The time I started thinking about becoming a chef was when I was on third grade in elementary school.
Back then in the essay type of project called, “Teacher, well”, I wrote that I wanted to be a chef in the future, and that essay won an award.
About the same time my father said, “If you really want to be a chef that much..” and bought me a set of knife and a grinding stone, then I decided to learn skills seriously.
That’s amazing that you had been dealing with a kitchen knife and a grindstone in the third grade of elementary school. Had you been you aware of the professional skills from that time?
Yes. I learned by myself while being taught my mother. I think I mastered basic skills like peeling vegetables and slicing. I often cooked for my family and I really concentrated on brushing my cooking skills in this time period.
My home is located in Fukuchiyama city of Kyoto, and and I was given a chance to go visit Japanese restaurants and confectionary shops and did training like things such as being taught how to use knives.
I turned to candy making and as I entered the junior high school, and I was into it. Since I liked and was good at science and math as I wanted to become a mathematician, the world of confectionary was very interesting which can be mass-produced while making it clear by mathematics and science.
Is confectionery making also by self-taught?
I describe myself as an, “autodidact”, who has no particular master on either cooking or confectionary. That is an image that even for the things I learned from books or training, I think again from 0 and make original expressions.
I have been a type of person who pursues until I am satisfied, so even there is a recipe that can be a good sample, I cannot just simply imitate it and add my tastes.
For example, in the case of shoe cloth, if you understand the relationship of gluten ,the moisture, and fat, you can make soft and fluffy dough, stiff and hard dough, tiny dough like stretched spider web, and moist dough by the recipe calculation and technology.
In particular, since there are many parts in confectionery making that can be measured in numbers, it is easy to have a grasp. So I was able to make most of confectionaries without measuring. I still make desserts even now, but base of it was learned when I was in junior high school.
Focusing on French cuisine and coped with cooking training and study.
When you became a high school student, I heard that you had a time that you thought of being away from cooking.
When I enrolled in high school, I was selected to the national polity soccer player. So I thought to forget cooking and confectionary making and tried to tackle in earnest in soccer. However heart disease was found in ECG of health diagnosis in May, and I was banned to do any sports for about 2 years. I’m all right now, but back then I switched my mind to do cooking. I entered the world of culinary this time.
Is that the same time that you focused on French cuisine?
Yes. After eating many kinds of restaurants of various genre, the one I was impressed the most was French cuisine. During my high school years I earned money by part-time job at the local French cuisine and went to Kyoto city or Osaka on weekends to eat around.
In mid 1990s, there were many magazines and guidebooks that introduced French restaurants so I never lacked in information. Among the restaurants I went, I asked the one I thought it was delicious and was allowed to do training during a long holidays like summer and winter break.
Were you were able to work in the kitchen even when you were a high school student?
Of course. Now and then there are many cases that student trainees are not counted on, but in my case it was different. At that time I bought many cooking books and studies, so all terms of cooking in French were all in my head, and I had already learned basic cooking techniques, so I hesitate to say about myself but I was welcomed like, “You are an immediate asset and helpful.”.
Addition to that, I had been training at many restaurants since I was an elementary student, so cleaning and washing were surprisingly quick and perfect. Even now when I drop by at the places I worked, they say, “There is no one like Keizo who can wash fast and well.” That is actually something makes me happy.
It might be rare for the chef to be acknowledged the washing. You must be a distinguished trainee. I heard that you were being active attending contests and holding events.
I actually forgot the official name but I attended cooking competition or something like a national championships 3 years in a row. When I was a 2nd grader of high school, I won and was a bit famous person in my hometown. I took interviews of local newspaper and TV, so there was a time when I go out for grocery shopping in town, a lady that I know of came up to me and talked, “Keichan, I saw you on TV.”.
It was like that, so the events I had been holding randomly by my free will had good reactions. The content of the events was a restaurant by appointment only, using a local restaurant.
This might be the true value of calling myself an “Autodidact”. Anyways I could not help loving my food. I came up with food all by myself and built course that cost 10,000 yen per head.
The menu that I wrote by looking at others back then, has many mistakes as I see it now, but I made such genuine French food as “flitted leucism” and “sauteed foie gras with orange flavor”.
For the dessert I prepared about 10 kinds of cakes and made it all you can eat…
In order for the customers to take leftovers home, I prepared boxes and cold insulators. I remember that thinking about that kind of things and seeing people being happy were very fun. This event was held for about 10 times until I graduated but it was full of reservations everytime and were popular.
It seems like you had already started your career in earnest from your junior high school and high school. After you graduated high school you entered culinary college in Tokyo.
I went to “École Tsuji”, in the group of Tsuji Culinary College, which specialized on Western cuisine for 1 year. But in this time also I wanted to train at restaurants out there as much as possible, I intentionally went to a school in Tokyo instead of Osaka. It was easier to study when people didn’t know about me. Honestly class at school was boring, but I never was late or absent. I attended properly.
The first place I went by referral by my high school time was “Reverie”, which was a confectionary shop located in Ichiban cho, Chiyoda-ku.Chef Yasuo Minoya, who was the owner chef, was a great person who won M.O.F (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) , asked me, “You want to study French cuisine, right? Where do you want to train?”.
And the name of the restaurant I boldy brought up was “CÓTE D’OR” in Sanda.Chef Masao Saisu of “CÓTE D’OR” was a person that everyone who aspire to French cuisine admired. I thought it was absolutely impossible, but chef Minoya contacted chef Saisu soon after and talked it out. It was surprising.
Then I went there from the second half of April until about July, in total of 3 months, then I also trained at “Mitachi Triangle” in Kojimachi and “Le Mange-Tout” in Ichigaya. In both places there were full of veteran chefs with strong characteristics so it was a great lesson in many ways.
Is going to France right after graduating high school also an influence by chefs there?
You could say that. Big veterans like chef Minoya, chef Saisu, and chef Tani made a chance to discuss on, “What do we do for Keizo from now?”.
“Keizo already has a career equivalent to a chef with 8 years of training, so it is not good for him to stay in Japan where has seniority system. More than than it is better to train in France where has merit system.
So I was also willing to do so, but my parents quite opposed to it.
I think they were worried about their son at his teen going abroad by himself.
At the end it was a shame but chef Minoya came all the way to my house in Fukuchiyama city, and asked for a permission. “This kid must go to France. He will surely become a person who represents Japan.”, he said. Then I was able to get a permission from my parents and I went to France in the beginning of March without waiting for graduation.