Image courtesy of: Au 14 Février Saint-Amour-Bellevue
The meaning of operating a restaurant
Your food is said to be feminine, is not it? Please tell us about your cuisine and your philosophy.
I like classic French cuisine. I think the sauce is the life of French cuisine. My cuisines are made with fruits that I blend with the sauce, also known as the spirit of French cuisine. This is not only for a refreshing taste, but also for matching the cuisine with wine.
Wine is made from grapes, a fruit. Both fruits are compatible with each other. Sometimes I look to the flavor of the wine and start from there.
While eating fish while drinking a glass of Marc Koran white wine from Saint-Auban village, I was intrigued about how the wine complimented the food. I thought to myself, “this is a true marriage of flavor.” Chefs should definitely know their wines. .
The staff of the nearest three-star restaurant “Georges Blanc” also seems to be told to come and try my food and often come over. The chef also makes reservations for himself and comes to visit.
My dishes have a gradation in flavor. I grow edible flowers and herbs in the garden and I use it for dishes. It is my fruit, also called my weapon when cooking, that I use to match with the sauce. I often use fruits and flowers, and it is said that it is feminine, including not only the appearance but also the taste. I am defining myself as “Cuisine Féminine” (feminine dish) chef and that is my aim.
I believe foods of the same color have high affinity, have color gradation and taste gradation at the same time. For example, when we combine Boudin Noir (a sausage that is mainly composed of pork) with Redcurrant.
I use more than 5 elements in each dish and add as much as I can. My aim to create different tastes with each bite. Also, I try to add hidden tastes such as adding confit (jam) etc. on the back of the spoon.
I only do courses. This is because the elements and sauces are sometimes covered by eating just à la carte, and I want to avoid that.
We have 11 dishes in the largest course menu but we are careful not to overlap any dishes so every dish is served on a separate dish so as to show the food and its ingredients. I change my dishes eight times a year, but I always have fruits in the base of the sauce, so I am careful not to overlap with the ingredients used in my desserts.
The meetings on the course changes are very detailed and carefully chosen and I always discuss with the pastry chefs in the kitchen.
What is it that you treasure most at your restaurant?
A must is to use delicious and high quality ingredients. We value the appearance, surprise and production (atmosphere). I have to think about the big picture with regards to the restaurant. I want customers to say that they “had fun” rather than hearing about how delicious the food was. I try hard every day to hear customers say “we had a good time”. .
I think restaurants are important not only for dishes, but also for the people. This is because customers come to the restaurant also come to see people. Service is very important, the cooking is secondary.
When I bring food to the customer, I do not tell the customer that I am the chef. The kitchen has four people. If there is a conversation between me and the customer, the timing of dishes being served and customer service will be out of sync. I do this to reduce that possibility. However, I will definitely see customers off when they leave. Of course, I am at the restaurant every day. I think that restaurant should follow this system. I myself like restaurants where the chefs are always there.
What is the source of your inspiration for your food?
I grew up in a nature rich place called Itoshima City in Fukuoka Prefecture, so I dislike crowds. Because of that, I am not interested in museums, and I have never been to a museum, even though I am in France.
Instead, I like to see beautiful scenery, so when I have time, I travel around beautiful small villages in the vicinity with a single-lens reflex camera and my car. I think I have been to almost more than 100 places.
I like to take pictures of the same place with various compositions, and carefully observe the position, stereoscopic effect, color usage. We are cultivating a sense of beauty by comparing the difference in beauty by composition. Looking at the beautiful scenery in this way may be a source of inspiration for cooking.
Things I communicate to the people I work with on a daily basis.
What were some of the difficulties you encountered when you came to France?
I came to France and lost confidence in the first three months of training and I got frustrated. I had a lot of pride and did not get the respect I thought I would from the work I had done in Japan. Just because I was a good worker, that wasn’t enough. Words are important. Therefore, I returned to Japan to get a student visa. I entered a private language school called Lyon Bleu and I studied linguistics for 6 months day and night.
How about your hard work as a chef while running a restaurant?
When I was working at “La Plage” in Lyon, I constantly failed. For telephone orders, sometimes I had to listen to voicemail and more than once I couldn’t pronounce the word lemon (citron) in French so I had to polish my pronunciation every day.
Because we are targeting local customers, people visit during the busy season in February, but people do not visit during the slow season too much. Even a single star will not always be full.
Friday, Saturdays and Sundays are often full, and unfortunately we often refuse reservations because the number of seats is limited. Lots of my customers are wine producers and French people who can come and enjoy a slow meal on weekends. I get a Japanese customer maybe once a month, if that.
Why did you decide to open a restaurant in this secluded area?
I have liked this beautiful Saint-Amour-Bellevue village since I came here when I was in language school.
I wanted to challenge myself by providing my version of French cuisine to a 100% pure local French community. And, I have never been interested in big cities
What kind of guidance do you give to employees?
Because I have been in France now for a good amount of time, I am doing my best to be able to write in French without making any mistakes so when the day comes that I go back to Japan, I can do so without the shame of not knowing the French language after living here so long. From orders to ingredients, whatever it may be, I am always sure to write them down in French. Even if I have to look something up in a dictionary, I write it down in French. I am not the type of person to blame the environment I am in.
On Sundays, employees are tested on their use of French vocabulary. If the score is bad, I have them write the word 50 times and ask them to not neglect their language study.
Outside of work in the restaurant, employees will only be allowed to interact with French people. In this village there are also many old-fashioned neighborhood associations, and sometimes, people leave vegetables in front of the house. I think we are blessed with a good opportunity to speak French.
How is recruitment done? Also, what do you look for when viewing candidate resumes or during an interview?
The total number of employees is 6 to 7, all Japanese. I am particular about being able to run a restaurant that is appreciated by French even for a Japanese only team. SNS is utilized for recruitment activities. We use SNS to recruit, but we do not just decide by e-mail or phone, we actually interview. If you like wine you can enjoy working here.
Personality is important. I look at personality the most when hiring. People who act as if they know things will soon find out how much they don’t. To the employees “shame” is a point of emphasis to being honest. It is important to have a learning attitude and motivation without running in fear, even if you hit a wall. And if you cannot adapt to this philosophy, you cannot be a member of our staff.
This is not just about work, but how you think about how things in life. Life changes drastically depending on how you think about and understand time, “What can you do in 15 minutes?” And “There is only 15 minutes “. During the trial period, we will take a look at the candidates’ use of time when these type of situations arise. What does that person do when they have an extra 15 minutes? What will they do when they only have 15 minutes 15 minutes left? I want to see if they have the capability of filling their time with action. This gives me an insight into how they think.
My motto is “Think of things” “There is no choice but to do” so I want to work with a positive thinking person. The word “do it” is posted in the kitchen of my restaurant. When I was feeling down while working at “La Rochelle”, I often looked up and gave myself positive pep talks to motivate and inspire me. No matter how painful it is, this was something that helped me keep a positive state of mind. It is a word that is really important, wonderful and powerful for me.
Can you give any advice to a chef who wants to come to France and work?
I would say, don’t expect too much. Things that work in Japan will not work as they are in France. Also, if you don’t learn how to speak French, your opportunities are limited. Even if you say you can look at it and understand it, in reality, your understanding is not sufficient. There are many things outside of work that you will need to understand, be able to ask questions and understand the explanation.
Please tell us about your future plans.
I feel that I have only achieved 30 to 40% of what I wanted to do and what I want to do from here on out. From now on I would like to make the terrace wider and prepare a salon where customers can spend time before and after meals. If possible, I would like to make a private room (for 6 to 8 people). I was able to get two stars before I was able to create the ideal space I had in mind. I would like to enhance my restaurant by constructing a high quality atmosphere in the near future.
(Interviewer: Yoko Ishiguro, Text: Yoko Ishiguro, Photography: Pierre-Olivier)