Discovering a career in food after connecting the dots between personal interests
What was it that originally propelled you toward a career in making food?
I played a lot tennis up until high school and I obsessed over it every day. I figured that I could get through college by playing tennis. But in college sports there is always someone out there who can best you, and I really started to consider my future career choices when I thought about pushing through college with tennis and what all that would leave for me on a personal level.
I had always loved to eat food and my older sister was very fond of cooking too, so I would help her make meals and stuff like that at home. Back then the show “Ryori no Tetsujin” (Iron Chef) was a big hit. I saw an episode where one of the Iron Chefs battled someone from France and I was completely enamored by the whole thing. This is what really got me thinking about traveling abroad. In a way I felt like a career in cooking would be a nice way to tie together all of my likes and interests, so eventually I set my sights on Tsuji Culinary Institute.
How did that decision go over with your parents?
They weren’t opposed to it at all, actually. My father crafted shoes for a living, so the 1st floor of our house served as a workshop for him. I was the youngest out of 4 siblings, and since I had an older brother my father didn’t seem too interested in passing down the family shoe business to me. This left some room for me to pursue work that interested me and make my own choices for the most part.
What was it like during your time at culinary school?
I opted into the 2-year course. This started with a 1-year course to obtain a professional cooking certificate, and then after that there was a 1-year study period at a school in France. But, in my case I needed to save up money before I could leave for France to study. So, I spent an extra year working part-time to put money away for school, which basically means that when you include my time in France it took 3 years all together for me to finish.
Was this around that time that you started thinking about owning your own restaurant?
Back when I started going to culinary school I had it in my head that I wanted to get my own restaurant going while I was still in my twenties. The fact that I grew up at a home business must have influenced me as well. I had nothing but blind faith in myself (laughs).
What was it like studying at a French school?
I spent a year at a campus in France’s distant countryside. Half of that same year I shared a dorm with another student that was just like me. We split off into 3 different groups consisting of customers, service and preparation, and then lunch and dinner was split up. We had chefs from France that served as the instructors and they would demonstrate whatever dish you had to prepare the next day. When you came in the day after you had to recreate that same dish and perform other similar tasks. In between that there were French language courses as well. I had the day off during weekends so I took time to try out new foods and explore the markets. I spent half of that year enjoying as much of France as I could.
Sounds like you were immersed in food each and every day. What was the rest of the year like?
The latter half of the year was for what they call “stage,” which is when each student interns at various restaurants. You spend time working right onsite to gain more knowledge and learn new techniques. The kids who were at the top of their class would get to go to 3-star restaurants and do stuff like that. I got placed at a hotel restaurant in Lyon. There was a lot of technical know-how to learn of course, but I think this is where I truly cultivated the outlook and fortitude of a chef. I did that by getting to know the importance of being self-assertive, even if I didn’t speak the language well. And, I took the time to learn from more experienced students as well.