Not counting what you cannot do, but thinking about what you have become able to do.
As for staff, there is only one who serves beside you.Has it been like this since you opened?
There was a young chef at the beginning, but he resigned after about two months.
It has been this way since then. Unexpectedly, we found that having just two of us was enough. We have five seats at the counter and six table seats, so it becomes hard to move if we have many people in such a small space.
So for now, you will do the cooking yourself.If you use another chef in the future, is there an ideal character that you prefer?
I definitely prefer someone highly motivated.
What do you mean by “highly motivated”?
I think that most people have certain expectations and ideas when they decide on a place to train. An important part is when you start and many things do not go as you thought. It takes flexibility to think long term, about how you’ll be when you continue for several years, instead of running away thinking it is too tough now.
Of course, when you are young, you feel anxious because the future is unclear.
For example, I wasn’t able to prepare food much in my first several years at Totoya, and worried whether or not I’d ever be able to cook in that environment.
But when I reflect on the past, I notice the things I improved compared to one or two years prior. We should motivate ourselves by counting what we’ve become able to do, not what we cannot do.
Your attitude towards doing things changes if you can look at the positive side even when it gets monotonous. Is there anything from your training period that makes you think, “It was good that I did this”?
First is to eat at lots of different restaurants. And when you do so, it is good to pay attention not only to the food, but also the interior design, dishes, and service.
The ideal restaurant differs from person to person and some might not care about those details so long as food is good. But food involves a sense of beauty, too.
By being interested in many things such as dishes, pictures, and calligraphy, and trying to widen your perspective, you can improve yourself. I think it shows in the quality of the food.
It is also important to have a clear vision of how you want everything to turn out.
Whether you want to own your own restaurant, to work as a head chef in an organization where you can exert your ability, or to just go with the flow as long as you can cook what you want to.
Anything is fine, but having that vision will guide you and tell you what you have to do in the short term.
You also had a personal deadline, to go to Tokyo within ten years, and were clear about what you would do.
You don’t have to stick to a plan completely, but it will become more difficult if you take a long time. I think it is good to draw a map.
Your plan becomes apparent: “I want to open this kind of restaurant, so I will do this by this age.”
If I’m not happy working at your restaurant, the customers don’t feel comfortable either.
In November 2016, it will be exactly six years since you opened your restaurant. What is your vision for the future?
I am thinking of two directions. One is to make the restaurant a little bigger.
Fortunately, we have many customers and there are days where we are fully booked and cannot take any more reservations.
But since I still want to work in a place where I do can everything myself, if I expand the restaurant, I’ll increase the seats from 11 to around 20.
Another idea is keeping the size as it is, raising the price a little, and serving even better quality food with better dishes.
Coming up with a vision of expanding the restaurant and raising the quality of ingredients and dishes means that now you have customers who prefer that?
Right. My regular customers are mostly in their 50s and 60s, and there are many entrepreneurs. They know the taste of good food and have a profound knowledge of culture, so I learn various things from them. But that age group, in 10 or 20 years, will be my generation. Now, I do food and arrangements based on my own ideas and fortunately there are customers who accept that, but I wonder if it will still be accepted when the world changes. People of my generation are more familiar with Western food than Japanese cuisine. My taste in interior design and dishes may be out of date, too.
You want to avoid forcing ideas on to your customers, so you shouldn’t make the restaurant your hobby.
Yes. But I’m the one who runs the restaurant, and I think that if I’m not happy serving at my own restaurant, the customers won’t feel comfortable either.
So as for the future of the restaurant, I am not going forward with an idea of becoming a restaurant “producer.”
I just want to create a comfortable environment for both customers and myself.
（Interview: Osamu Saito Writer: Ayako Izumi Photographer: Kazunari Shimizu）