Seeking out a long held dream of independence after 5 years of training
So then you started up your own restaurant 2 years after your time at Shuhari?
In 2002 when I was 26 years old I opened up “Tout Le Monde,” which was an 18-seat restaurant in Dosabori, Osaka. Right when I thought about opening my own place my mother found out that she was ill, and after hearing that news I really wanted to push myself as hard as I could. I had just gotten married, and my wife helped me out while I got started on everything.
The restaurant’s name, “Tout Le Monde,” comes from the French word for “everyone.” I named it that to capture the idea of it being “everyone’s restaurant.”
However, at that point my goal just consisted of being able to open a restaurant. The trouble came when I realized how difficult it was to keep the business side of things going. It made it very hard to be able to keep up with everything I wanted to do.
During midday we had a meal for 1,200 yen geared toward the lunch crowd, and then for dinner we had an a la carte meal with French food, which had a cost of 5,000 to 6,000 yen per person. At the same time, however, I was still searching around for the best way to handle each dish and I went too far with a lot of stuff. I just didn’t have any idea as far as what kind of restaurant owner I was trying to be.
When you were searching around did you stumble on something that helped you find your own way?
After about 4 years of trial and error the restaurant “Le Comptoir de Benoit,” which had Alain Ducasse on-board as a producer, opened up on the top floor of the Breeze Breeze shopping tower over on western end of Osaka’s Umeda district. I was eating a French meal there with some young chefs from Osaka while Yoshiki Tsuji, the head of the Tsuji culinary school group, and Ducasse were meeting together to go over some plans. While all of that was going on they singled me out.
Alain Ducasse said he would like to come by Tout Le Monde for a meal, which totally blew me away. Chances like that don’t come around very often and I was honored to accept.
When Alain Ducasse came by the restaurant he signed his autograph on the wall for me. I still treasure it to this day. I carved out the piece of wall that he signed so that I could put it up on display here at my current restaurant (laughs).
On the day he came by I scheduled to meet him at the central wholesale market first so that I could show him around, and then practically right after that he came by my restaurant for a meal. I was so inspired, or even more than that I was deeply moved by the whole thing.
After that experience I started thinking about what kind of food I could express myself with and the type of concepts that I wanted to get working on. When I thought about these things I landed on something in particular. I came to the idea that I should work on myself first before I do anything else.
And what exactly did you have in mind when you thought about that?
I decided to leave for France to spend 3 months there while my restaurant was undergoing renovations. I emptied out all of the savings I had built up and toured around all of the places that I couldn’t go to while I was in culinary school. This included Paris and regions like Burgundy, Champagne, and Alsace. I went around and checked out different restaurants to see what I could find. Touring like this gave me a chance to get inspired by the local cuisine and pick up on their techniques and other know-how.
Alain Ducasse found out that I was there in France and he got in touch with me to see if I’d like to dine at his restaurant “Athénée.” The timing didn’t quite work out and I couldn’t meet him there directly, but I still got to see their kitchen, and when I got there I was told that I would be treated to a special dinner with wine. That whole experience felt like a dream.
You must have been very committed to have taken out all of your savings like that?
Yeah, you could say that. There’s no doubt that this was a turning point in my life. When I look back on it this point in my life was like being at the bottom. And, when I was going through these difficulties my wife also got caught in the middle.
My wife was very supportive of me of course, but she was getting more and more enthusiastic about wanting to have children. But, at this point I wasn’t feeling firmly established in life and I still didn’t have the confidence in myself to start a family like that.
I wanted to get myself established somehow. I thought that if I couldn’t do that then there would be no future for the restaurant or myself. Through all of this my wife could see where I was coming from and she let me go off and study like I wanted. This wasn’t like before when I went to culinary school, this time I was prepared to go to France.
How did your trip to France influence the concepts and menu that you were working on at your restaurant?
I stopped offering low-cost meals during lunch and switched to bistro-style dishes instead. Then for dinner I also switched over to 8,500 yen course meals. I somewhat expected this but more than half of my old customers stopped coming by. I think it took about half a year for the style I was going for to really sink in.
Meanwhile I was lucky to get some coverage in different magazines and things started to get on track as more customers came in. In those days there wasn’t a lot of French dining options around here, and to add to that it was rare to see a chef in their twenties who already owned a restaurant. I think the media really enjoyed that aspect of it and I was lucky to be around at the right time like that.
It seems like everything was going well for the restaurant at that point. So, why did you end up changing the location and name in favor of the restaurant you have now?
It had been somewhere around 10 years since I opened Tout Le Monde, and since then I had changed as both a chef and as a person. My food also changed along with that. As that happened the space itself transformed for me as well. This got me thinking about starting a restaurant that better reflected all of the changes I had gone through. A little while after that an opportunity came around that gave me the chance to set up shop here, so I forged ahead and made the transition.
I got to know a designer who was around the same age I was during my time at Shuhari, so I asked if they could me put together an interior and dining space that accurately showcased my interests. I changed the name from my previous restaurant and went with a new title. I used “adhoc,” which is the French reading of a latin term that roughly means “with purpose” or “special.” Once everything was ready I was able to open up in 2014.
What are some of the biggest differences between this new restaurant and the one before it?
The space and atmosphere itself, which includes everything from food, service, and interior design. I place a lot of importance on customers being able to come in and enjoy their meal in a comfortable dining space. This means that I don’t overly concentrate on just the food. I want customers to feel completely happy and at ease when they eat at ad hoc. So for me food is just one part of the process in making that happen.
We have about 20 seats at ad hoc, and I have 5 people working the kitchen and 3 others out in the dining area. If for whatever reason a staff member were to leave suddenly, we can still produce the same quality of food and service if we make sure to keep our number of people at roughly this amount. I mean this in a good way, since this system gives us a little room for staff members to cycle through as they please.
What would you say is the foundation for the changes your food and restaurant went through?
I spent about a 5-year period of pursuing certain changes and looking for ways to accomplish what I wanted. As far as the foundation for that goes, the idea starts with wanting my own restaurant and then I move on to making my ideal restaurant a reality. That’s the sort of self-actualization that got me to where I am now.
I wanted to offer better food so I upped the quality of it and raised the prices accordingly. I really valued all of the customers that had been with me since the beginning, so I made sure to give a full explanation for all of the changes I was making. But even so as you might expect about two thirds of my customers stopped coming in after I raised prices. With that being said, I still wanted to put out the menu that I was working on and push ahead to get my ideas out there.
Sometimes I felt anxious about the changes I was making and I worried about how customers would react and stuff like that. But, now that I’ve seen it through I’m glad I persisted with what I wanted.
You went out and started up your own restaurant at a young age. So, as a chef how do you feel about owning a restaurant?
I don’t think that everything comes down to owning a restaurant. As far as my own experiences go, it is certainly difficult to keep a restaurant in business. When I opened mine there was a particular wave happening and I had lots of allies along the way too. I don’t know if things would have gone the same way if I started now.
There are probably a good amount of people out there who are perfectly suited to work as a chef, but they don’t exactly fit when it comes to owning a restaurant.
Then there are other types of chefs out there that like to manage restaurants within hotels, corporations, and other large entities like that.
I think it’s important to first just figure out what you like and then after that try to examine why you like those things. When you’re young it’s especially important to take care of the work you’re given and become a trustworthy person that other people can depend on. I think that as you go through different perspectives and pass each stage, the path forward will naturally open up in front of you.
Now that it has been 4 years since you opened ad hoc, what types of things are looking to take on now?
First of all I want to improve ad hoc as a restaurant. I’ve been able to rely on my staff more and more, so I’d like to slowly start having them do work for me that we couldn’t do before, things like catering and events in Tokyo. My staff members have had a lot of their own unique experiences as well, so I think they are ready to take on new and interesting endeavors with me.
I’m not looking to expand into more locations unnecessarily, but if we can build a restaurant where people can grow and develop, then something like that might come up on its own.
If I look back from where I am now, I can see that all of my various interests, which aren’t just limited to food, went into the space I have here at the restaurant.
Lately I’ve been wondering if it would be a good idea to also make my own furniture and stuff like that (laughs). My father was a shoe craftsman, so maybe that craftsman spirit is flowing through me too.
(Interviewer: Takashi Ichihara, Sentence: Ayako Shiraishi, Photo: Oka Takashi)