How much can we get people to enjoy polarizing duck meat?
So you finally opened your specialty restaurant.
I didn’t plan to specialize in duck cuisine at first. I was thinking about a restaurant where customers could enjoy mainly charcoal grilled food and soba, with duck as just one menu item, but…
The president of Tsumura Honten really did not like the idea of serving Kawachi duck alongside other meats like beef or pork, so we ended up opening as a Kawachi duck specialty restaurant. (laughs)
I think that ended up being a good thing, because it became one of our distinguishing points. I don’t know if we would have become a restaurant that customers enjoy like they do now, if we had done charcoal grill and soba. We are really grateful for how much guidance we were given by those around us so that we could open the restaurant.
Even after we opened, customers who I met while working at the bistro came to eat here, and people helped us in all different ways. We expanded from acquaintances, and little by little the number of customers grew.
I heard that you used to be in a different location than now.
It was a little closer to Sannomiya Station than this place. Actually, our previous restaurant was given to us by the president of the bar chain who had helped out before. The previous person had closed their store, and the space had just opened up, so the president kindly allowed us to use it.
We left the interior design as it was as much as possible, so we were able to open without spending much money, which was very helpful. We used that restaurant as a reference for the style when we opened this one. The owner of this building likes my husband’s cooking, and often visited and became friendly with us, and helped with details of the design when we moved here so that we could create a relaxing restaurant space.
Are there any differences in the cooking between when you first opened and now?
We have gotten to this point by figuring out how to meet our customers’ needs in various ways. We have really learned a lot since opening, both about duck and about cooking. We just call it “duck,” but the size and the amount of fat varies according to the season. In the summer, ducks are leaner and have less fat, so it is easy to use in cold preparations, and in the winter, they have more fat, but if there is too much the taste can be overly strong. I plan my dishes taking this change in the ingredient into consideration.
Also, cooking is based on courses. I prepare several courses, thinking over the creation of my other menu items each day to enhance the enjoyment of eating the main soup dish. In the end, duck is a polarizing ingredient, so I need to use a lot of different strategies with it.
On the other hand, I don’t want to give regular customers or those whose tastes I know something that is generally liked by everyone; if I produce dishes that allow them to be more deeply satisfied with duck, they can enjoy it without losing interest.
Duck itself is not a food you often have the chance to eat, so if the customer leaves something untouched, we try to ask for the reason as much as possible. Some women remove the fat before eating it, and some people just cannot eat the skin. The characteristic taste of duck is part of its appeal, but there are many people who dislike it, so we are also careful in serving our customers.
People who like duck truly seem to be happy with it, and some of our regular customers come several times a week, and even enjoy soup in the summertime. When everyone gathers around one pot of soup it creates a really intimate atmosphere, so that with many of our customers the relationship feels more like one of friendship than service.
The desire to pursue a flavor loved by guests across generations
What is your husband like, from a wife’s point of view?
He is very kind to the staff we work with together, and he never gets angry or raises his voice even when someone makes a mistake. He’s the type of person who, when there is something he just doesn’t like, will come later and just tell me quietly.
I can sense him growing steadily as a chef as well. I know that he has worked hard in finding his own way, and contemplates his cooking daily, considering how he can please his customers.
So he was very happy when he received a Michelin star. Of course his cooking is going to be evaluated, but he was even more happy with the approval of the people who had helped him get this far. Even the president of Tsumura Honten would ask every time they met, “Maybe this year?” So I think my husband may have been feeling some pressure. Maybe he felt that he owed it to them.
I’d like to ask about some things outside of work, if I may. Could you tell me how you keep both your restaurant and home running at the same time?
On Sundays, Tsumura Honten is closed, so the restaurant closes as well. So we can participate in some children’s events on Sunday, and we make sure to go out to eat with the children when we’re off.
Actually, our working hours are not extremely long.
Of course, there are late nights in this line of work, but during the daytime we often eat together and can also take some free time.
Depending on the timing, I sometimes have my husband go pick up the kids, since as an independent business we have a degree of flexibility with time. So in that way, we probably have more freedom in using our time compared to a businessman working for a company.
We have a rhythm of work and life, and do not really need to sacrifice anything.
What do you want to do with the restaurant in the future?
First, I’d like to dig into what we can do with this restaurant. We don’t serve lunch, for example, so I feel that there are more things we could do.
But since we are promoting Kawachi duck, I’d like to try trading on the Osaka market. I don’t have any specific ideas currently, but I would like to try it out.
Also, the staff have really grown and matured, so like the company I worked at previously, I would like to work together with them in the future to create places like sister restaurants where they could work.
As for me, since my husband is a groundbreaking chef, I would like to see him push the boundaries of what can be done with cooking. I want to support him to challenge himself in areas that he is interested in, and not only limit himself to duck cuisine. While creating new things, I think it is also important to protect some things and continue to offer the flavor that all this time and work has produced.
We have seen a young couple come to the restaurant, then next time bring their parents along, and after a while, come in with a little baby. It is our dream to create those long-lasting relationships with customers.
We want to be the kind of restaurant where people go for family celebrations or times when they want to create special memories, and then they can remember Tabuchi’s cooking along with their memory. Nothing would make us happier than to be enjoyed by guests across the generations. That’s what my husband and I are working hard together to achieve.
(Interviewer: Takashi Ichihara, Text: Yohei Ueda, Photograph: Kengo Osaka)