If the customers, the staff, or the vendors are not happy, it’s not possible to create a joyful space
Kohaku is now in its eighth year. At the end of 2015, it went from having two Michelin stars to three Michelin stars. It seems that you are sailing smoothly as a cook. In regards to your work, is there something you give special attention to on a daily basis?
I try to not over-think anything. I diligently do what I can. That naturally gives results and gives birth to something new. If I can do something new that makes my customers or staff happy, that’s all that matters. I think it’s important to face your daily tasks boldly.
How did you feel when your restaurant was promoted to three Michelin stars?
Of course, I’m very happy that the work that we grapple with daily has been well-received. I was happy that the customers were delighted. I think it is a great encouragement for the staff who work in the restaurant. However, for me personally, nothing has changed. Just the same as until now, I’m going to keep doing what I can, little by little. Hypothetically, even if the restaurant didn’t have any Michelin stars, I think it’s important to do the type of work that would make people say, ‘This place deserves a Michelin star, why on earth doesn’t it have one?’
What are your future dreams?
Well, I don’t know if it counts as a dream but…I am in charge of supervising the staff of Kohaku, as well as its sister stores, Ishikawa and Ren. I am enjoying seeing the young staff members grow. Most of them are in their early twenties and now is the time for them to absorb skills and knowledge. After a few years, when they have built strength, I expect them to come up with somethings and say, ‘let’s do this!’. I hope I can also grow so that I can support them when the time comes.
It seems that there is active exchange between the staff members of Ishikawa, Kohaku and Ren. What do you pay attention to when it comes to the management of young staff members.
It’s the same feeling I have towards customers. I want to establish a system and environment so that they feel glad to work here and feel like there are things for them to learn here. Of course, it’s important to make the customers happy, but if the staff, the vendors, and people involved with the restaurant are not happy, we can’t create a joyful space. I’m always thinking of ways to let the staff work comfortably.
Are there job transfers within the three restaurants?
Each of the staff members’ placements are determined, judging from their everyday attitudes and based on experience and skill. There are cases where people are transferred after a few years. Also, all three restaurants are located close to each other, so on a regular basis, they do go to other restaurants if help is needed with cleaning up after closing.
Because all three restaurants deal with different ingredients and have different dishes, the staff can learn a variety of styles. It’s a great learning environment for those who want to learn or who want to have their own shops eventually.
I believe so. Also, Mr. Ishikawa’s training policy is to give chances to people who are motivated, regardless of their years of experience. While it is expected that delegated tasks are done properly, creating an environment where young people can think for themselves and make suggestions is also valued. That’s why older people like us have to have an attitude where we face new challenges. We can’t be caught off-guard (laughs).
Japanese cuisine is a collection of the essences of Japanese culture. I’d be happy if its greatness is widely conveyed.
Ishikawa seems to have a lot of foreign customers. How about Kohaku?
They are increasing. As chefs, we think it’s a wonderful job where we can hear ‘thank you’ or ‘it was delicious’ from our customers directly. Hearing the reactions of foreign customers makes us relive that happiness all over again. With foreign customers observing Japanese culture and traditional techniques attentively, there have been many instances that made us feel like we have been shown the wonderfulness of Japan, that we, as Japanese had not noticed.
For us Japanese people, there are a lot of great things about Japan that we take for granted and tend to overlook, right?
One thing I really feel strongly by making Japanese food is that Japanese food does not just include the world of chefs. Even a piece of bonito is brought to us because of the fisherman who caught it, the person who smoked it, someone else who molded it, and the vendor that carried it to us. Also, Japanese cuisine is composed of not just food; everything in the restaurant, including the tableware, hospitality, arrangement, and the clothes worn by the staff reflects Japanese technique. Japanese food is made up of the essences of Japanese culture. I am happy that I can present such a thing to my customers, and I’d be even happier if I can convey that more widely.
I look forward to it. Thank you for taking time to speak to me before your evening meeting.
（interviewer:Osamu Saito, writer:Ayako Izumi, photographer:Kakaribe Tomoyasu）