I’ve always set a goal first. Then I have achieved each plan by working backwards from my goal

Seiichi Honda

Zurriola cuisine

A vacation to Spain and fascination with the country leads to a decision to move to Spain.

After that, you moved to Spain. What kind of feeling did you have for Spain?

Mr. Honda :
When I was working as a sous chef in the French Basque Provinces, I visited the Basque Provinces in Spain. I was very surprised to see such a different world from the French side. People were very fashionable, everything I ate was delicious. At that time, a three-star restaurant there became popular suddenly and how elBulli’s food was created was grabbing everyone’s attention. Spanish cuisine was taking the world by storm. The country itself was becoming very popular. As for me, it had been about four or five years since I arrived in France. I was feeling I had been doing quite a good job. It was around the time that I was thinking about going back to Japan. Therefore, I just thought I would explore Spain for a year, and I decided to go to the Basque Provinces in Spain.

How did you find the restaurant in the Basque Provinces?

Mr. Honda :
When I was working at the restaurant in the Basque Provinces in France, I was introduced to the restaurant by a man who was almost solely responsible for the local king bolete mushroom industry. He had a large personal network. I told him I would like to go to Spain and he said, “OK, let me help you!!” He liked me and took care of me for some reason! I was introduced to a traditional restaurant, not like a Michelin star restaurant. This was because I wanted to see and learn authentic traditional cooking in Spain. If it were a Michelin star restaurant, I would only be able to see highly sophisticated and creative cooking. I needed to see authentic traditional cooking first, in order to be able to become creative.

Zurriola Seiichi Honda menu

You were supposed to stay in Spain for a year but ended up staying for four. What attracted you?

Mr. Honda :
The Basque Provinces in Spain are important areas in Spain. It is a commercial, economically rich area so there are many people working and living there. Naturally the city areas have developed culturally and many cultures have gathered. When I was on the French side, I thought I was in what people called the “Basque Provinces.” However, I found out after going to Spain that those were the real Basque Provinces. Their cooking level was higher and the quality of the ingredients was so good. I was very shocked.

I heard you worked as a chef there.

Mr. Honda :
About two years after I started working at the restaurant in Spain, I became a chef there. I was 28 years old. For the local people, it was surprising seeing a foreigner becoming a chef of the restaurant, but I was around people with whom I had worked for a long time and I got along with them well. I even lived with my co-workers at the same house so I had a good relationship with the people around me. They helped me a lot and we had the same spirit to aspire to. I have many great friends whom I met at that time.
When I recall, it was one of the most important times in my life. My life in Spain was full of enjoyment and fun days so I wanted to live there for good, but I also wanted to decide my career path by the age of 30. So then I ended my nine years of overseas life.

Please tell me what kind of mindset you had when you were doing your apprenticeships overseas for nine years.

Mr. Honda :
When I moved to Europe, I had already decided that I would stay there for at least five years. I didn’t want to simply travel. When you take such a step, I think it is very important whether you make it end with something you did, or make it become a true experience over time. I didn’t mean to be there to get the experience of traveling to France or Spain. I wanted to gain experience and become like a local person. As I was in France, I tried to eat French cuisine as much as possible; I went to a Japanese restaurant only twice within those nine years. I didn’t use my Japanese, either. At that time, I imitated the penmanship of my co-workers or chefs and wrote recipes. I wanted to become a French person that much. That’s why my mindset, I think, became more like a non-Japanese.

Zurriola cuisine

Struggling with what to do with his life after coming back to Japan.

What did you do after coming back to Japan?

Mr. Honda :
I came back to Japan with one of my best friends, who is Spanish. He was going to Japan for training for about a month. The place where he was going to do his apprenticeship was RyuGin, a Japanese restaurant which Mr. Seiji Yamamoto (※1) is the owner of.
He didn’t speak Japanese so I went there with him at the first meeting as his guardian. Then he asked me, “By the way, what do you do?” Then he knew my language ability and asked me if I could work at RyuGin. I’d never had experience cooking Japanese cuisine and didn’t know anything about the ingredients or terminology. I thought I would need to work in the kitchen to learn those things so I decided to work for him. At RyuGin, I went on a Europe trip with Mr. Yamamoto as his interpreter and I was responsible for the work in the kitchen for about one and a half years.

※1:For more about Mr. Seiji Yamamoto, please refer to the Foodion interview.

After you quit RyuGin, what did you do?

Mr. Honda :
Actually, I hadn’t decided what I would do when I came back to Japan. I left Japan at a young age and had experienced a lot so I wanted to take a break for about half a year then start thinking about my future. As I originally thought about that way, I worked part-time after I quit RyuGin. Then I received a call from a French chef who was working at the Tokyo branch of Sant Pau. He said, “I am looking for someone who can work here; do you know anyone?”
It was such a coincidence that I had made a booking at Sant Pau for a week later. Thanks to that, I was asked to work at the restaurant and started there. I thought I would be able to use my skills.

※2: Restaurant ZURRIOLA 
You can enjoy a creative modern Spanish cuisine prepared in the traditional style of Spanish Catalunya food. 
It is located in Spain, Catalunya and the chef, Ms. Carme, who opened the main branch, was not originally a chef but an experienced home maker. She opened the restaurant with her Inspiration and sensibility which made the restaurant popular in Spain and she gained three Michelin stars in 2006. She opened the Tokyo branch in 2004.

What did you do after working at Sant Pau for two and a half years?

Mr. Honda :
About a year and a half after I started working at Sant Pau, I started thinking about having my own restaurant. I started looking for a venue so I quit Sant Pau after two and a half years as a sous chef. I started preparations for opening my restaurant and actually, I was supposed to open on the 25th of March, 2011. As I continued with preparing for the opening, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. I had my staff members and my restaurant was almost completed. I had no choice but to open no matter the situation, so I opened my restaurant on the 15th of April. However, the business didn’t go well for the first two years. If you have time, you think too much and get concerned, right? As I recall it, I can understand now that my restaurant’s direction was not determined so my cooking didn’t attract customers. I only struggled everyday what to do.

How did you get out of it?

Mr. Honda :
When you are struggling, you tend to imitate someone else or use what is trendy. I struggled a lot about my direction as I got lost. At that time, I asked myself why I choose the name Zurriola for my restaurant. It originally comes from a type of peach which grew in front of my house in San Sebastián. I chose this name to remind myself of the feelings I had at that time. When I remembered that, I realized that I can only serve what I create from my own experiences. All I can do is what I can do. In addition, some foreign customers said, “French restaurants and sushi restaurants in Japan are all the same. This is because they see the pictures on social media and just imitate them.” These words were one of the reasons I got out of that dark tunnel. When I go to restaurants that are owned by older chefs, they serve their own cooking. This made me realize. I realized that I needed to serve food because I thought it was delicious; and that was the most important thing. I revisited what I had done in the past and started thinking, “That was delicious, maybe I can add this so it will be even more delicious.” Since then, things have been going well. I followed my will and finally I was able to gain two Michelin tars. Stars are not everything but I was able to gain confidence as I thought I was accepted by people and things were going well.

Zurriola liquor

Zurriola nameplate


6-8-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
3-minute walk from Exit A1 or A2 of Ginza Station on the Tokyo Metro

7-minute walk from the Ginza Exit of JR Shinbashi Station

Lunch 11:30-13:00 (last order) 

Dinner 18:00-21:00 (last order)