What the master said to me when I was on the brink of giving up my career as a professional chef
So, it looks like Master Muta wanted you to “aim higher”, what happened then?
I started working at a restaurant in a hotel. This was actually the beginning of my dark years (laughs). All the skills I acquired throughout the years didn’t mean anything at all. Unlike preparing food for 20 – 30 guests at a small restaurant, we had to cook for more guests on a much tighter schedule. We would serve from 100 – 200 guests a day. 500 – 600 if there was a wedding reception or a party. At some point, you had to make a decision and say “Okay” and proceed with your job. Otherwise, you end up being the only one who didn’t finish the dish on time while the other dishes are ready to go. This would mean a huge blow to the entire restaurant.
Until then, I was working at a counter right in front of a small amount of guests, and my first priority was being thorough with my work. So it was hard for me to make the switch. I soon started to doubt all the hard work I put in. I started to think, what was it all for? I don’t think I can be a professional chef. Perhaps I should just quit. I felt so inferior and embarrassed that I could not talk to the master directly, so after much thought, I decided to write a letter. The master came to see me immediately. There I thought he would say something like, don’t quit, hang in there, and give me a push forward. But instead, he said, “You can quit if you want”. Huh!? I was surprised to hear that. “It was my fault. Perhaps I chose the wrong restaurant for you. Let’s find the next restaurant, together”. He even came along and apologized with me to the restaurant in the hotel.
That’s when I realized how big-hearted he was. He was yelling at me most of the time, but when I was in a crisis, he was there to help me. I realized this later, but if he had convinced me to keep working at the hotel by saying “hang in there!” I may have quit. I think he knew that. I always realize what the master had in mind afterwards. Compared to him, I’m just a present day father and a business owner, so if I sense something wrong with the staff, I immediately ask, “What’s wrong?” “Is everything okay?” (laughs). On the other hand, the master always “watched over us silently, but came to save us immediately when we were on the verge of collapsing”. This is quite hard to do. I think he was able to do this because he knew my limits. It was only later when I realized how amazing this was.
After the hotel you trained at many restaurants. At what point did you decided to start your own restaurant?
As I was stepping up my career in numerous restaurants, I was assigned to be the head chef at a Japanese restaurant. I was 27 at the time. I decided to train as a head chef for 10 years, and when I was 37, I opened my own restaurant. It wasn’t my life goal to go solo. I was simply worried about the stability of my employment as I was approaching my 40s. And even if I were employed for another 10 years, would I have the energy to start my own restaurant at age 50? Opening up my own shop was my way of “going on the offense” to resolve this issue, although some may consider this running away instead of going on the offense (laughs). Well, that’s the way I think about most things.
But “going solo” is no easy task. If all it took was experience, there would be more restaurants in the world. What is the difference between those who succeed and those who do not? Which am I? As I was saving up and preparing to go solo, I was thinking a lot. Then, someone gave me a gentle push on the back.
Who was it?
As you might have guessed, it was the “Master” (laughs).
I asked, “I want to open up my own restaurant, but it’s not as easy as it sounds, right?” To which he replied, “You have to try to find out. If you want to try it, go for it”. It was a very simple and straightforward response. He said, “You are ready. The only thing that’s not ready is your mind”.
So, I decided to open up shop. He was always there for me throughout my career as a chef.