Doing a professional job is being able to look at the client in the eye and say, “This dish is worth 200 euros.”
What is your cuisine style?
It is a contemporary cuisine without conflict between tradition and innovation, and with a lot of respect for the product, which we don’t over-transform. I like to play with texture and temperature effects.
What is important in order to move forward?
To nurture your creativity, you must keep an open mind as you observe society and nature. If you think you know everything and that only your own style is right, it won’t work for long. What I ask myself: “What are the new products, what are the new trends?” And I wonder about the products: “How was this one grown, how did it come to my kitchen?” I try to keep my work vibrant and dynamic.
I stay in touch with the world: “Why is cuisine leaning towards becoming vegetarian? Is this a trend or is it a substantive change?” I’m gathering information so I can continue to be creative and offer the clients something attractive. This is because a chef only exists if he has clients – without the client, he doesn’t exist. It’s like an actor who doesn’t exist without a public. If we want to continue to have customers, we must create the desire to come to this restaurant. We must offer something new that will astonish them and that they’ll like, something that matches their expectations, something they will want to discover. It isn’t simple. So we must pay attention to what is happening in the world and in society.
When you are on leave from Sur Mesure, you are very active in Japan. Does that mean that you take no vacations?
In Japan, I’m not there only to work – I also practice Judo and Kendo. These activities, which are outside my trade, help me see my work from a different angle. I’m not just shut up in my professional world.
The University also brings me a lot by widening my field of vision. I gain a lot from meeting academics and meeting people in general – and that brings a lot to my cooking.
You must have a lot of energy to conduct all these activities at once.
It’s a spiral, a dynamic synergy.
What does being professional mean to you?
Being professional is when you can look at the client in the eye and say “I made this for you.” It means you’re not ashamed of your work. You take responsibility. You carefully pick out the ingredients, you work them in your own way, and you present your dish honestly to the client. If the dish costs 200 euros, you must be able to look your clients in the eye and tell them so. On the contrary, for an amateur, if the dish is not perfect, it’s not a big deal.
You also have some restaurants in Tokyo. Isn’t it a lot to run all these restaurants?
When you work with collaborators, it is important that you transmit the spirit of your work to your staff. I know that in Ginza, Atsuko (Ms. Atsuko KOIZUMI) selects the ingredients carefully, and I have had experience working with everybody there. Moreover, I go often to the restaurant and I know that the staff there shares my spirit. They know that they have to be able to look the client in the eye and tell them “I selected the ingredients, and I prepared this for you.”
You have to take responsibility for the result of your work. Atsuko has worked for me for over ten years. She graduated successfully from a culinary school, and she has always done a perfect job for me. I have been blessed to have great collaborators who have been working with me for many years. It is also important to give our staff some space to express themselves. One day, Atsuko will come to me and say, “I want to open my own restaurant.” This is the natural course of events. It’s the responsibility of a manager to give his staff an environment where they can cook freely. We can’t confine them and then think they will stay forever.
Nowadays, what interests you in cooking?
I’m interested in professional training. I created a school for people who can’t afford tuition fees. It’s free, but one can’t be absent or late. It’s also a shorter curriculum where you can obtain a certificate within twelve weeks. You can choose cooking or baking. People who can’t afford a professional school can train in my schools. I want to help people who are unsatisfied with their lives, who want to learn a trade and change their situation. Of course foreigners are also welcome.
If you want to be a cook, you have to do it because you like it.
When are you happiest as a cook?
When I’m cooking. When I’m concentrating, working on a fish, facing my ingredients… When I’m cooking, I’m always happy. In those moments, I feel I will always be excited about this profession. I can’t live without it.
I make trials on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and these are precious moments. I’m with my collaborators, and these are moments of cooking and exchange, it’s really enjoyable.
I went through some really tough times when I was young, but I always believed I would be able to overcome them and that I would have my own restaurant and my own company. So I didn’t worry about the future. Even if I had no money and was sleeping in a little room, I believed I could make it.
What’s your dream?
To keep on expanding my company and to open more schools. And someday open my very own little restaurant, just for 8 or 10 guests, where I could cook while looking at my guests and talking with them. In France or in Japan. I’d like to face the clients and cook for them, something in the spirit of teppanyaki (laughs). One can say it’s the essence of the profession. The technique and the gesture are crucial, and you have to be very precise, even more so when you are standing in front of a customer. Right away the client will see if he can trust you – he can see what you’re cooking. I think it’s amazing.
I’m fifty-six, and I want to keep on cooking. Cooking is the thing that inspires me and makes me happy. A chef makes what he craves for. Being a cook is something that you do to make people happy, to create desire. It’s not a job where you deal with sad events or where you have to give bad news – it’s a poetic profession. Once you’ve learned the gesture and you become organized, there is nothing hard about this profession.
(Interview, text: Akiko AWA, pictures: Hiroki TAGMA(Food and profile pictures: courtesy of the restaurant))