Encountering a “book” that got him into cooking
In April, 2016, the restaurant expanded and moved to a new attractive spot in Kitashinchi. You are steadily making progress, Mr. Shimizu, but I hear that you became independent very early.
I was 30 years old when I opened my own restaurant in Shimanouchi, Osaka. I entered the culinary world when I was 25; I was 1.5 years into culinary school, which I started after I graduated from college. Becoming independent after 4-5 years of training is very quick in this industry.
I became interested in chef as a job during the senior year in college. When I was worried about work after graduation, I heard on TV that “the memoir about Shizuo Tsuji, the founder of Tsujicho Group, is very interesting,” which made me want to read it, even though I never liked reading. It was “Bimiraisan” by Yasuhisa Ebisawa. I was drawn by the depth of the culinary world, and could not put the book down. After I graduated, I started helping out my family’s fish store during the day. Thinking that “it would be easier for me to recommend fish to the customers if I knew how to cook,” I began attending culinary school at night. As I studied, I became increasing more interested in cooking, and instead of taking over my family business, I entered the world of Japanese cuisine.
How did you train after that?
At the recommendation by the culinary school, I first worked at a Japanese restaurant in a hotel. The restaurant served classical dishes, and I just could not think they were delicious… Thinking that “I want to train at a restaurant that serves the food I like,” I began eating at a variety of places.
Around this time, a TV show on FUJI TV called “Iron Chef,” in which a challenger competes with a top-class chef, was very popular. During the show, I was attracted by the creative dishes made by Haruhiko Yoshida, the owner of “Kakurin (presently, Kakurin Yoshida),” a Kappo restaurant in Shinsaibashi. I immediately went to the restaurant to eat, and felt that the food was daring and delicious. I was completely captivated, and revealed that I was a chef and periodically went to the restaurant to “learn.” Then eventually, I was invited to join the restaurant, which I graciously accepted.
I trained at “Kakurin” for 2 years. In addition to learning creativeness in food preparation, I also learned how to be considerate from Mr. Yoshida. They were basics of service industry such as presenting food and utensils in reverse orientation for left-handed customers.
The greatest benefit of counter seats is to be served food prepared right in front of your eyes. As such, timing of service and minor considerations can really make a difference. At first, I failed to sense the needs of the customers and frequently got reprimanded for it.
After that, Mr. Yoshida sent me to train at an inn in Arima Onsen called “Nakanobou Zuien.”During the last 2 years, I was entrusted with the position of “Nikata,” a position to determine the taste of the dishes. This lead to building my confidence, and I decided to gain independence in 1998, when I was 30 years old.
3-4 years after opening his own restaurant, there was a period when he got 2 reservations for the whole week.
What was the reason for choosing Shimanouchi, Osaka to open your restaurant? How did the people around you react to you opening your own restaurant?
Timing is one of the reasons I chose Shimanouchi. An acquaintance asked me, “there is an opening for a retail space, do you want to start a restaurant?” I did not have that much money, so I made modifications to utilize the original layout of the property. It was like a café, a Western-style look.
My mother was initially against me starting my own restaurant. Around the same time, I met my wife, and we got married after less than half a year. Thinking back, I must have instinctively known that I could manage a restaurant with her. My mother finally approved my new business venture when I got married saying, “If there is someone to do it with, it will probably be OK, so you should give it a try.”
While she appears inexperienced, she has great disposition, takes good care of the staff, and smart, such that I have her in charge of the finances. I often hear, “If she is not here, the restaurant would not be functioning.” She is my most trusted partner in operating a restaurant.
In an industry where one typically opens his own restaurant only after over 10 years of training, you achieved independence in record speed. I presume you must have had some hardships along the way.
You are right. I couldn’t do anything during the first 5 years…no, 10 years. It’s only in the recent 3-4 years that I am finally cooking food that is highly regarded by the customers.
While I had customers who would stop in to try a new restaurant, I rarely had repeaters. It was simple; the food was not good. I had self-confidence from being a “Nikata” at the end of my training, and I was proudly making my own food. But I must have overwhelmingly lacked experience.
Initially, there was a period when I would only have 2 reservations for a whole week. This lasted for about 4.5 years. I was always in the red. I got support from my family and wife, and somehow managed. The restaurant would have closed, had I been in it alone. It was a difficult time that I still don’t want to think about, but I never wanted to quit being a chef. Besides cooking, I did not have other means to make a living, but most of all, I liked to cook. My will to somehow overcome it was stronger than the feeling of pain.