Gaining a multifaceted and rich experience working as a patissier at a top-class hotel
I heard that your family ran a patisserie.
Yes, I was born and raised in a family who ran a patisserie in Shizuoka. I have two elder brothers who studied pharmacy and art respectively, so it was always understood that I didn’t have a choice but to take over the family business.
So you started training at an early age?
No, not at all (laughs).
Before entering patisserie school, I did not even bake at home. I think I wasn’t very well-versed in baking. For example, I found out for the first time that a Mont Blanc dessert contained chestnuts after entering patisserie school. After graduating, I worked at a patisserie in Aoyama but that wasn’t because I was highly motivated or something, I just thought it would be fun.
When did you officially decide that you wanted to become a serious pastry chef?
After working at the patisserie in Aoyama, I thought for the moment I should just aim to become Japan’s No. 1 pastry chef. So I joined Park Hyatt Tokyo. Working there, I was greatly stimulated professionally. There were many outstanding people who had graduated from Waseda University or Keio University and by spending my days with them, I removed myself from the “box” of running a patisserie and instead, seriously started thinking about what I want to do in the future and what I can do to make people happy.
With that awareness, I naturally got serious about my career
Why did you want to become No.1 in Japan?
Actually, before I joined Park Hyatt Tokyo, I spent about half a year in France. At that time, Pierre Hermé was not even around yet and my impression of French sweets was just that they contained a large amount of sugar and butter. So I wasn’t especially attracted to French pastries in France. Of course, I think it was partly because my tastebuds were not localized yet.
Then, my ambition was to become No.1 in Japan.
What kind of career did you have working at the hotel?
It was a very valuable career step as a patissier. Because it was an experience you can’t get by working at a patisserie.
At a hotel, we have to prepare many types of desserts for many situations, such as asiette desserts which get served on plates, wedding cakes, boutique, delicatessen, etc. Furthermore, depending on the situation, I am able to see the reaction of the customer eating my desserts. I think these are interesting and precious experiences one cannot obtain by working in a patisserie.
Doubts about owning his restaurant and gaining motivation to move forward strategically
You opened Naturelle Nature in 2005.
Yes, I opened it in Shizuoka. Actually I wanted to go to France at that time, but it turned out that way because of circumstances such as the land readjustment scheme of the piece of land where my family home was and other things.
However, although I had the positive enthusiasm of opening my own place, to be honest, I thought I missed out on the chance to start my patisserie in the capital city.
Missing out on the chance of starting in the capital city?
Yes. After all, there is a lower awareness of sweets compared to Tokyo and I didn’t even know the extent of people’s understanding of sweets no matter how much effort I put in.
But at the same time, Shizuoka produces wonderful ingredients such as strawberries and mangoes and it was a great environment for that.
How was the management of the restaurant?
I can’t say that the profits of the first year were good. I thought that if I made something good with all my heart, it would sell well. But what I learnt firsthand was that if I made things that sell, they would sell. And of course, I don’t mean this in a bad way but things that are popular in the big city are different from things popular in the provinces.
People preferred to buy simple things which they can enjoy every day such as Swiss rolls or creampuffs and no matter how hard I made the things that I thought were good, they were not accepted by the public.
What did you do after that?
I was not completely convinced that only making things that sold well was what I wanted to do, so I started to think how I can make the things I think are good more sellable. Consequently, it may sound simple but I thought that I just needed to make myself more famous. So I joined the contest on TV Champion and won it twice. Because no matter how I looked at it, it’s hard when my sweets don’t sell.
What were the effects of winning TV Champion?
Honestly, the results were huge. My world changed completely and I finally had a system in place where the things I thought were good were being accepted. Therefore, after continuing the restaurant for a bit, I decided to go to France to pursue making my own sweets.