Earning Michelin stars should be for the sake of our staff

Restaurant MOTOI
Motoi Maeda

Restaurant MOTOI interior

One year after opening the restaurant, all the staff told me they wanted to quit…

So after opening it was smooth sailing.

Mr. Maeda:
However, after getting the star, I became greedy and started thinking of getting two. Then I started becoming too stoic and forcing the staff members to do this and that… They got tired and drifted away from me so I felt clearly that I was isolated. I could not talk to anyone, so I was lonely. Then all the members of the staff said that they would quit. At that time, we talked a lot and I apologized sincerely. Everyone managed to keep working, but it was an event that keenly made me realize that if I do not value people, I cannot continue my business.

It is more difficult to aim for the same goal as the number of new members increases. Have you started doing anything specific to work on it after that episode?

Mr. Maeda:
I began thinking about what “a pleasant work environment” means to the staff. I gradually changed the work environment. At that time they had 1.5 days off per week, but I changed it to a regular 2 days per week. People started to join after I changed that. By the way, there was also 12 days of vacation. Some go abroad, and others participate in training programs. I’ve never been a very strict type of person so now I usually play music during prep.

Throughout the food industry, there is an increasing number of stores thinking more about work-life balance.

Mr. Maeda:
It is also an important point that they can realize how rewarding their work is or they have a pride for their work. I think that earning Michelin stars should be for the staff. It is a kind of reward for the staff, who is doing their best using their time, isn’t it? If MOTOI gets a star, we can feel our efforts paid off and I think that working here will eventually become a big asset.

That is to think carefully about the future of your staff, who do their best for your restaurant.

Mr. Maeda:
While we advertise that we are pursuing a comfortable work environment, we may say the opposite thing, but I tell candidates in the interviews that we are a “black” company. Working hours can be shortened any number of ways using various methods. Then I ask this question.

“For example, it takes more than ten hours to make Fond De Veau (veal and vegetable stock). If you outsource, it will take 0 minutes, but your experience will also be 0. What would you do?” Then everyone says, “I want to make it myself.” By doing so, they understand why it takes time and what the purpose is. Those people stick around. It is not always right to simply shorten your working hours. Our job is to provide dishes that cannot be cooked at home.

Restaurant MOTOI Motoi Maeda

It is easy to repeat the same thing, but it is important to go beyond your past self.

What is your original cooking all about?

Mr. Maeda:
There is an idea of hospitality called “feasting” which comes from the basic idea where I care about gathering materials from here and there, and doing my best. It may be possible because we work in Kyoto, where any seafood is available nearby, but I rode a three-wheel bike and went to the market, picked some mountain vegetables… How much time can I spend to make our customers happy? I think that it is my expression – to put the culmination into one dish and its service. When it comes to taking time, MOTOI basically does not make a standard dish every year. I try not to give the same dish to the repeat customers. I want to go beyond my past self. It is easy for me to repeat the same things, but people get bored. I try not to forget the heart, to make it more interesting.

What makes you most happy?

Mr. Maeda:
I think when all the staff feel comfortable working here with smiles on their faces and think, “I was glad to work here.” Because everyone chooses how to use their time. I hear people complain that “young people nowadays are so-and-so,” but that is not right. Not just scolding them but telling them why it is good or bad and caring about them until they understand is what we need to do. Another thing I’m happy about is when a staff member proactively asks me, “Please let me do this job.” It is easy for people to simply do what they are given and no more.

But if it is from a stance of “doing it for someone,” you will not be allowed to work at any level any further. It is reasonable to raise a hand and say “I want to do it.” We need to study and make preparations for that. We also need to make efforts to improve our skills. But, the accumulation of the motivation to do more and ask for more responsibility will develop people. I think it is my duty to bring out that motivation. It is difficult, but when the staff gets over that wall, I’m so incredibly glad and it is the moment I feel is most rewarding.

(Interviewer: Takashi Ichihara, Text: Tomoko Tanaka, Photography: Takashi Oka)

Restaurant MOTOI interior

Restaurant MOTOI table set

Restaurant MOTOI entrance

Restaurant MOTOI

186 Tawaraya-cho, Tomikojinijoji, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
10-minute walk from Kyotoshiyakushomae Station on the Subway Tozai Line
Lunch 12:00-13:00 (last order: 13:00)
Dinner 18:00-20:00 (last order: 20:00)
Closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays *Closed days may vary depending on the month. Please see details on the website.