Totoya left an impact on me when I visited as a first-year college student.
Mr. Sakizaki’s hometown is Saga prefecture. His father was an art teacher, so he grew up surrounded by craftsmanship and design. During his last year in high school he decided to be a chef. He had only a vague idea: “I want to gain skills and express something, and in the future, I want to start my own business.” The culinary arts were what he thought he could do, realistically. After graduating high school he studied at culinary college for two years.
Had you decided to start your own Japanese restaurant when you entered college?
My first year was a comprehensive culinary curriculum, and I was more interested in Western food. But my classmates and I decided to go out and eat at some restaurants to learn. Our teacher recommended Totoya, a traditional Japanese restaurant located in Kitashinchi, Osaka. I was shocked by what I saw. It was a whole new world, and I immediately realized that I wanted to work here.
Totoya is in its own world when it comes to not only the food, but also the dishes, plates, and interior design.
Yes. For me at age 18, everything was new. It made a huge impact.
When I graduated, there were no positions available there, so I went to work at Meigetsuki (Takarazuka, Hyogo), a large kaiseki restaurant, but my professor later told me a spot opened at Totoya, and asked if I wanted it. So I was able to work at Totoya two years after graduating college.
What was it like working at the place you dreamt of?
I was aware the job could be tough, but it wasn’t easy at all. My first two years of work, I was just like a messenger boy. My work consisted of washing dishes and running errands – I wasn’t able to touch fish at all. It was in my third year that I could do prep work like washing fish.
I was able to fillet fish in my seventh year, when I became the second chef as other senior chefs moved to other places. It was a counter-style restaurant that reflected the characteristics of the master, so I did not have an opportunity to add anything to the food. I was only able to do a little grilling.
What kind of person was the master?
He was a strict person. I am also a strong-willed person, so there were some harsh words between us.
But I was never depressed by that. I had the determination to open my own restaurant at some point, so that gave me motivation when I was scolded. Of course I never talked back to him, but I had a strong mind to do a great job so that the master wouldn’t complain.
And moreover, I liked his food and the restaurant.
Totoya offers Japanese cuisine that is very simple, drawing out the inherent characteristics of the ingredients. It is his policy not to serve food that he doesn’t fully understand, so he selected the ingredients very carefully. After I started training there, I went to many restaurants, but I thought my master’s food was outstanding.
That’s very important.
Yes. At that age, I think it is important to be able to be proud of your workplace.
In my case, I think I was influenced a lot by his way of thinking and way of selecting dishes.
On my days off, I often went with him to museums and ceramic ware exhibitions, and he usually took me to restaurants in Kyoto. I had always liked art, but I was able to learn about dishes, calligraphy, and hanging scrolls thanks to him, so my interest deepened. I think Totoya made me who I am now.
When I began my training, I decided to move to Tokyo within ten years.
After training at Totoya for nine years, you moved to Tokyo at the age of 29.
You were in charge of food and drinks at the sushi restaurant Nishiazabu Taku, and worked at the Japanese restaurant Soan (closed in 2010) in Shiraganedai, Tokyo from the age of 30 for four years.
What made you decide to move to Tokyo?
I had already decided to move to Tokyo within ten years at the time I moved out of my hometown and started my college life in Osaka. I had a mind to see the world and widen my view. It was simple curiosity.
Had you told the master of Totoya that you wanted to go to Tokyo?
I told him one year before I resigned. At the time there was a junior chef who was in her second year and I thought it was my role to train her to a certain level, so I did not leave immediately.
After that, two new junior chefs joined and I thought it would be enough with two people under the master to run the restaurant, so I told him with sincerity that I wanted to go to Tokyo.
I had no work connections in Tokyo, but when I asked my friend, he introduced me to a new sushi restaurant about to open and I started working there.I thought that if I worked at a new place, it would be useful for when I started my own restaurant.
After I moved to Tokyo I worked there (Nishiazabu Taku) and then at Soan in Shiraganedai after Taku was running stably.
What kind of restaurant was Soan?
There were 60 table seats and no counter, so it was a different style from Totoya, which had only about ten seats. There were many chefs working completely independently.
The hall staff carried food from the kitchen to the customers. I had wanted to work at a big restaurant to gain experience, but I thought that restaurants like Totoya were better, after working there. It’s no fun cooking when you can’t see the faces of the customers.
It’s worth working at the counter, so you can feel the reactions of the customers firsthand.
I thought that tense atmosphere where you’re always seen by customers was important.
Of course, everyone at Soan worked hard. But when the kitchen is at the rear of the restaurant, short personal conversations happen. It might be typical but it was something that I couldn’t get used to. So I decided to go back to a sushi restaurant to train and prepare for opening my own restaurant.