An earnest chef-come-researcher who avoids fixed ideas and freely tackles ingredients face on.

Toyonaka Sakurae
Kenji Mitsuda

Toyonaka Sakurae

Sakurae staff surround their courtesy tomato hot pot made today by the store owner, Mr. Mitsuda himself.

The key to progress is meeting lots of people regardless of social background.

When it comes to food, there’s no stopping you from talking, huh? Haha. Please tell us about how to develop as a chef.

Mr. Mitsuda:

I think I was lucky to be surrounded by great people and a great atmosphere. I was able to experience many different things and was watched over by many different people. But if you stop there then it’s all gone to waste. I believe that working hard and hearing stories from many different people is also important. And try things out – one part of growth is to continue to be stimulated by what you do.

Engage with people outside of the food and drink industry too, such as musicians and potters. Any industry is OK. Just engage with people who chose that industry as their career path and learn from them. Why not try your hand at the tea ceremony or read a book about traditional Japanese art if you are learning about traditional Japanese cuisine? Or how about talking to a modern artist to hear their opposite point of view. Don’t be confined in a small space, open yourself up to absorbing new things and inspirations.

How do you usually learn?

Mr. Mitsuda:

I read lots of food books. So many books it could be considered weird. Haha! I sometimes think my house could be turned into a library with the amount of books I have. I read everything from cuisine books from around he world to old books that have gone out of print. If it looks interesting, I’ll pick it up. I also read to keep up to date with the latest information and trends.

Cuisine today is like science. You have to understand that theory. It’s very frustrating if, as a chef, you don’t understand what western chefs are talking about. Well, for me it’s frustrating not to be able to understand what somebody says to me, regardless of their profession. Haha! That’s why I believe you have to keep going places until you understand the conversation, be it about sake warehouses or pottery rooms. I just can’t rest until I can understand it to a certain extent, regardless of what genre it is. I feel sad when I see young people today pretending to know when they don’t really. Personally, I can’t absorb something unless I understand it fully. I believe that if I save up all the things I learn, it will help me create new ideas in the future.

Your stance must have a great impact on the other members of the restaurant. How would you describe your current restaurant team in a single word?

Mr. Mitsuda:

I’m at the center of the team at the moment. I’m still putting all the pieces together at the moment as I don’t want the members to change the theme with their own ideas. I want that to change in the future, but for now, I would like things to go the way I have planned in my head. I wish to move forward together as a big team with the same goal.

The staff I have at the moment are quite open-minded. Well, they would have to be to follow whatever I say… Haha! It might be a bad thing, but we don’t only have Japanese sake at our restaurant – a variety of wine and alcohol is also stocked. We also have a good relationship with the brewery, making it a great environment to learn Japanese cuisine. I hear that the staff even go to our associates’ farms to help out sometimes. While they are at the farms they learn about the soul of ‘Shojin Cuisine’ (Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine), where every part of the ingredient is used – from the peel to the leaves. Understanding this soul is a vital part of being a chef.

Toyonaka Sakurae appearance

Toyonaka Sakurae

Osuka- Bld., 7-10-7, Sakuranocho, Toyonaka-shi, Osaka, 560-0054, Japan
10 minutes from Shoji Station on the Osaka Monorail.