Chef Nakata, who trained in France and offers French cuisine in his own style

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Kenji Nakata

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Entering into the world of food, completely inexperienced and without having attended a culinary school

What prompted you to go into the food industry?

Mr. Nakata:
When I was in college, I had no interest in food. I ended up having to help out at my friend’s bar, and that is where I cooked for the first time. I bought cookbooks, and started making things, at the level of a home cook, just by copying. Until then, I was a total novice, having almost never even held a knife before.

Once I started cooking, however, I became more interested, partly due to the large popularity of Italian food at the time. Moreover, I had an incredible experience, when my friend happened to take me to a French restaurant for the first time in my life. I thought, “I want to be able to make this kind of food,” and that was the beginning of my life in the food industry.   

By my brother’s advice, who had graduated from a culinary school, I decided to train on the job at restaurants, rather than attend school.

What was your training period like?

Mr. Nakata:
I first started at a restaurant in Esaka. This restaurant offered a wide variety of cheese dishes, French, and Italian foods, and I was able to learn the basics of French and Italian cuisines. After that, I worked at a wedding venue to build experience, and then joined “La Cloche,” a French restaurant in Yodoyabashi, when I was 26.

My training period was not severely harsh, instead I was blessed with great mentors. When it came to cooking, however, it was strictly “learn by watching.” I watched the senior chefs working in the kitchen day after day, and studied on my own, so if I were ever asked, “can you do this?” I can confidently answer, “yes.” Rather than “studying under someone,” I learned many things from all of the senior chefs working in the kitchen at that time.

After that, I developed an interest to really learn about French cooking, and moved to France.

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Japanese chefs’ “techniques,” and French chefs’ “sensibility” that I realized in France

How was your training in France?

Mr. Nakata:
Since I had no connections, I had to look for a restaurant in France that would take me. I got an advice from an acquaintance, who had just returned from France, and decided to send a fax to every Michelin ranked restaurant. Reputable restaurants actually gave me a clear answer. From a few options, I decided to work first at “Le Taillevent,” and then at “La Tour D’argent,” as a trainee.
When I actually started working, I first realized how different things were from what I had imagined. From what I had experienced from watching the senior chefs in Japan, I felt that overall, the work was done a bit roughly. For them, cooking was “work” after all, and they greatly valued their off-days, which they spent with their families. Perhaps I was shocked by this difference in the sense of value. Working hours and off-days were clearly designated, and the restaurant was closed for the entire month of August for vacation. Besides the question of it being good or bad, I learned that the sense of value in France is completely different from that in Japan.

Therefore, I felt that Japan is actually better for learning “techniques” of cooking. In fact, Japanese people are known for being dedicated and detail-orientated workers, and many of them are actively working as second or third in command at famous restaurants. Nowadays, it is much easier to gather information, and also, it is possible to use the Working Holiday system. Going to France is not as big of a challenge as it once was.

I could hardly communicate with the co-workers on the job, however, they used gestures and demonstrated the skills to me, so I was able to keep up.

In terms of “techniques,” I did have a negative impression as I mentioned before. However, it was amazing to be able to experience their sensibility, such as coming in contact with the ingredients for French cuisine, color scheme of the dishes, and flavoring. They were amazing in that aspect. The longer I worked, the more I learned about the amazingness and the depth of French cuisine. Having worked hard in an environment where I did not understand the language, and did not get to work as I wanted, helped build my confidence after I returned to Japan. I wanted to work in France longer.

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Twin-Court Fukushima, 3-12-20, Fukushima, Fukushima-ku Osaka-shi, Osaka, 553-0003, Japan
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