Realizing that it was not enough to learn the skills in the actual work environment if you aspire to be a top-class chef
I can’t imagine that, based on how you are now. What happened after coming back from France?
Mr. Tani :
I couldn’t face the people who supported my move to France. I didn’t work for a while and stayed at home. I was such a fool… Mr. Pachon called me as I was in such a depression and gave me an opportunity to get a job. I really appreciated it very much.
After that, I did my apprenticeships in my late twenties at Rengaya, which was one of the restaurants in the Paul Bocuse Group in Ginza. I am not really subtle so I thought I would need to work from morning til evening in the kitchen and learn from my seniors to become a professional chef. I worked as a section chef and my work was going well. However, I quit Rengaya in two and a half years.
Mr. Tani :
I lost my child. He was my first child.
While I was at work, I got a phone call from my wife saying that our son was in bad shape. However, I replied and said, “Don’t call me about such things.” I received another phone call from her and we decided to take him to the pediatrician. I told the chef I would leave work early to head to the hospital but by the time I arrived at the hospital, he had passed away. That very morning, he saw me off when I left home and said, “Take care.” People say we shouldn’t count the ages of the children who passed away but I still think about it. He would be 40 years old now if he didn’t pass away.
Something which shouldn’t happen to anyone happened to me. I made excuses for my work when something happened to my family. I hated myself for this. I think I would still choose work if I am asked to choose either family or work. However, if something happens to my family, I would quit my work. I would close my restaurant and everything not to do things in a halfway manner. This is what I keep in mind now whenever I can take action in a similar situation.
I was in the depths of despair so took about two weeks off. Then I decided to quit. I decided to leave the food industry and become a salaryman as it should be more flexible when something comes up with my family. At that time, the teacher from Hattori Nutrition College who introduced me to Îl-de-France asked me to work with him. It was a job as a teacher.
Such a sad thing happened to you. What made you decide to go back to work as a chef?
Mr. Tani :
The office work was flexible in terms of time but it was too flexible for me. I went to work at 9 in the morning and finished at 4:30. When I went back home as soon as I finished work, I could arrive home before 5. It was around the time when I would eat the staff meal if I was working as a chef. I worked about 14 or 15 hours a day before I quit so I had nothing to do after work.
However, I was like an empty shell and had nothing to do at home. As a result, I played Pachinko every day until the closing music, “Hotaru no Hikari,” played. We had the trauma of our child, so my family, including my wife’s family whom we lived with, were all leading a kind of conservative life so no one said anything to me even if I spent my days like that.
I spent my life like that for about half a year. I started thinking about whether I would keep doing this and it would be ok. One day I was told by my senior that he was looking for a chef. I went to the store to get more information, then I was immediately hired on the spot. It was a restaurant with about 50 to 60 seats, located above a museum in Ginza.
However, after about a week, I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue. I realized that I couldn’t make what I was supposed to be able to cook. The restaurant business was going well and the president of the company didn’t really care about that but I couldn’t get over the fact. Therefore, I quit the job and decided to do my apprenticeship again, as a chef.
It was when I was about 28. I had an opportunity to do my apprenticeship for about half a year under a famous chef. I was shocked by his skills and speed. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to reach such levels by only learning the skills in the kitchen environment, even if I spent my entire life doing so.
I needed to learn skills other than cooking itself if I wanted to be as close to his level as possible. I thought that way and started reading books about cooking skill and knowledge intensively. When there were times I thought “Why?”, I read books and if I thought, “I see,” then it confirmed what I read at work. I repeated such things to clarify French cuisine systems and methods. I think what I learnt during that time became a foundation for how I live and my direction as a chef. They became very useful for me when I wrote my cookbook.
I started making a significant contribution during the second stay in France. I was able to stand at the starting line as a professional chef
You moved to France again at the age of 37 years old, after that.
Mr. Tani :
I didn’t walk the royal road of a French chef. As I mentioned earlier, I worked as a teacher at a culinary college due to my family issues; there also was a time that I couldn’t work in the kitchen as I had lower back pain, so I participated in the development of reheatable packaged products at a food factory.
However, I managed to return to my work as a chef and had gained experience. My work was going well but there was something wrong in my mind. It was my failure in France. That was an inferiority in my life.
If possible, I wanted to return to France and challenge myself. Such feelings had developed inside my mind. One day, I spoke to Mr. John Mayer, the owner of a winery in Elsàss which I knew through my work, and he told me, “I will support you – so please come to France.”
I was introduced to a three-star restaurant, Krokodil, in Elsàss and worked as a section chef. After that I worked at the two-star restaurant, Schillinger.
The second visit to France was for two years. When I told the story of my return home to the owner of Schillinger, he said, “Why don’t you work with us as a sous chef?” After deep thought I had chosen to return to Japan where my family was waiting for me; but when I heard his words, I felt that I was finally recognized as a professional French chef.
I was able to overcome the thought patterns about the setbacks that had been a longstanding lump in my mind. Since I had already had a career to some extent, I rarely had to learn the technical side of things, but I was able to experience authentic ingredients locally and learned about local cuisine and food culture that was hardly touched at that time in Japan.
I did not have to worry about everyday conversation like the first time I went to France, so I enjoyed my life there, too. Every weekend, Mr. John Mayer treated me to home cooking at his house; the days when I helped pick grapes at the vineyard in the autumn is one of the assets I gained there. From my experience staying in France twice, I often tell young chefs, “If you are going to do your apprenticeships in France, you should learn either language skills or technology.” Then, first, I recommend going to the provinces and going to Paris only after getting used to the language. Because people in Paris speak so fast that you can’t easily catch what they say!