Cooking creative Chinese cuisine for Japanese people as a chef who knows authentic Chinese cuisine
Is there any difference between Chugokusai S.Sawada and Chuka Shunsai Sawada?
Mr. Sawada :
The thing that hasn’t changed is that I cook every dish. There are fewer tables than before so I think I’ve been able to improve on the quality of each dish.I’ve even changed the way of cooking the crispy chicken. Depending on the chicken that I’m using, the temperature of the day, and other conditions, I decide what temperature and how long to deep-fry them. I serve what I am satisfied with so, I am very determined to serve each dish in the perfect condition.
Another thing is ingredients.
There is a long-established Japanese restaurant called “Oimatsu Kitagawa” near my restaurant. The owner of that restaurant and I are from the same generation so, we sometimes exchange information and he introduced me to a wholesale dealer of ingredients. Thanks to him, I’m able to buy higher quality ingredients.I was worrying whether I needed to use high quality ingredients for Chinese dishes such as stir-fried shrimp in chili sauce, originally. I didn’t have any connections with wholesale dealers that sell high quality ingredients.
Now, I think that I want to serve Chinese cuisine which is better than French or Japanese. The Japanese restaurant in the hotel that I used to work definitely looked down on Chinese cuisine.When I think about it now, it makes sense. We used frozen shrimp and frozen squid. It’s unheard of in Japanese and French cuisine.When I thought about creating something I could be satisfied with, ingredients were definitely an important part. If I don’t have quality ingredients, I won’t be able to serve quality dishes.
But if I use quality ingredients, pricing also is a very important issue. I can’t put my prices as low as those cheap Chinese restaurants in town.The current prices of our dishes are higher than when we opened the restaurant. It was around 6,000 yen or so then, but now our menu starts from 10,000 yen. Of course, the quality of the dishes has risen as well. If I want to serve quality dishes that my customers will be satisfied with, it’s natural for the prices to go up.
The same as Mr. Kitagawa, there are many good Japanese and French restaurants near our restaurant. Some owners are from the same generation as me so I can’t stand to be beaten. We are good competition for each other.
I heard that you are adventuring with seasonal ingredients and unexpected seasonings?
Mr. Sawada :
I have collaborated with Japanese and French chefs and Mr. Kitagawa too, in various cooking events.
In these events, I learned a lot about the quality Japanese and French cuisine created by top chefs. I was able to learn many things about ingredients, cooking methods, and plating from them.
I tend to eat out on my days off but I rarely go to Chinese restaurants. I try to eat different foods. Also, I’ve started to understand cooking in a more scientific way recently. For example like the balancing of the taste. I was influenced by Mr. Murata (Mr. Yoshihiro Murata) who I worked with on a TV show. Chinese cuisine often depends on seasonings, but he taught me to see the balance of the ingredients and taste. We have four seasons in Japan so I was able to think about how I could cook delicious foods using seasonal ingredients. I sometimes use bonito or kelp soup and add French styled sauce. I borrow cooking methods from other cuisines and, in the end, create my Chinese cuisine.
So, you mean authentic Chinese cuisine in China and your reality is different?
Mr. Sawada :
If you don’t know what authentic Chinese cuisine is, you can’t add creativity. You need to know the basics first. If you cook something that you think, ‘is probably Chinese cuisine’, then what you are cooking will only end up being some original fusion.
What I’ve always been determined to do is to learn authentic Chinese cuisine and bring it back to Japan in a way that Japanese people can enjoy. This is still the theme of my cooking.
Finally, may I ask what your goal or dream is?
Mr. Sawada :
To be honest with you, before opening the restaurant, I never really thought about gaining Michelin stars but, now many people have talked about it to me and I started thinking about it. Haha.Finding good ingredients and creating better dishes. I repeat this everyday but I plan on continuing it. This is the one thing I can continue doing.
Also, now we have six staff members but there will be new members joining us this year. We are planning on building a Chinese bar. It will be a bit more casual than our current restaurant.
I sometimes think about opening a ramen shop, too. Haha.
If I talk about the even further future, I would like to open a shop with only a counter and no menu. I would like to open a restaurant where I don’t need to think about profit, and can simply enjoy cooking. That’s my dream.
(Interviewer: Takashi Ichihara, Contents: Ayako Shiraishi, Photography: Takashi Oka, Photos of the restaurant: Provided by the restaurant)