Mr. Tsuchisaka’s way of thinking, everything begins with a “negative” element
Why did you decided to open a tempura restaurant?
When I was preparing to open shop, I was worried. Why would customers choose my restaurant over all the other restaurants? To remove that uncertainty, I wanted something that only my restaurant could provide, a solid reason for the customer to choose us over others. So I decided to serve the best of Japanese cuisine and tempura dishes in an extraordinary atmosphere at my restaurant. I said the same thing when I was talking about making my decision to go solo, but this is another example of coming up with an idea from a “negative” element.
From the beginning, I didn’t want the customer to say, “Everything tasted great”. Rather, I wanted to include at least one dish with an element of surprise in the course menu that the customer would remember. So, I wanted a clear “image”, I wanted the customers to come to my restaurant “to eat something specific”. “What’s this soft thing in the bowl? Sesame tofu?” “No, it’s Shirako(testes of fish) tofu” “Ah, I see!” This was the kind of conversation I wanted to have in my restaurant. This is why I chose tempura.
Here’s an episode from “Ichijunisai Ueno”, where I was the chief chef. After the customers had finished their meal, I would pay a visit and introduce myself saying, “Hello, I’m the master chef”. Then, customers who are about the same age as my parents would be surprised to see me, saying “You are so young”. I’m sure they meant this in a good way, but I felt sorry for “being so young”. I didn’t like this.
So, I decided to join them from the beginning and prepare sushi, cook Ayu with a Shichirin (Japanese cooking stove made of clay), and prepare their dishes in front of them as I introduced myself as the “master chef”. The customers really liked this style. They especially liked it when I brought a portable stove to their table and fried tempura right in front of them.
As a chef, tempura was something I saw everyday, but that wasn’t the case with most customers. Tempura was something very special they did not see everyday. Customers would get amazed saying “wow!” right in front of me. Many would say, “Thank you for a luxurious meal”. This motivated me to learn more about tempura. So, I took the best parts of Japanese cuisine and tempura and opened this restaurant. I chose this quiet location far away from the station to set an extraordinary atmosphere in the hopes that the busy housewives and businessmen who come to visit will be able to forget that they are in Osaka.
When I think about anything, it begins with a “negative” element. How long will I be employed? Can I really run a business? Will customers come? To get rid of all these worries, I looked for a clear “image”. The answer was tempura. I guess it’s hard to say whether I’m going on the offense or just running away (laughs). But this is how I think about everything.
The “Half-clutch style training” method that trains the ability to make decisions and creativity
At “Tsuchiya”, I always see Tsuchisaka-san, the master chef, working with other staff. I feel this is what creates the “Tsuchiya” atmosphere.
I don’t want a restaurant where I am the dictator. I want all my staff members to talk with the customers and gain confidence. Needless to say, I always watch over them to make sure they are not doing anything rude. But when I see my staff talking with a customer happily while I’m talking to another customer, it really makes me happy.
If I just say to my staff, “Do as you are told” and make them prepare a dish, I can minimize the risk. In fact, if I don’t do that, it might mean more work for me. This might work for the time being, but what about 5 years later? Or 10? I’m more worried about that.
One of my staff has a background in Italian cooking. He was looking for a new place to work and I offered the position. I have a lot of fun just talking to him about food. I don’t feel any sort of distance when talking to him just because my background is Japanese food and his is Italian. In fact, I learn a lot of things from the staff myself.
Do you have a clear educational policy?
I ask all my staff to act independently. Of course there are rules, but in a small restaurant where you prepare the dishes while taking to the customers, there are many parts you need to improvise that just cannot be taught through a manual. There are a lot of “half-clutch” parts. So I really want my staff to think on their own. Let’s call it the “Half-clutch style training” (laughs). What I do is set a broad framework by saying something like, “As long as you stay in this boundary, you can do anything you want”. Maybe they will try something and the customers really enjoy it. Or they might try a new method and find out it was more efficient. I want them to constantly come up with new suggestions.
Are you doing anything to improve teamwork among the staff?
We hold “dinner parties” on a regular basis and go to other restaurants to learn new things. This includes everyone who supports us including the liquor shop people and accountants, not just the staff. We would go to a French or Italian restaurant to enjoy the marriage of food and wine, or pay a visit to a Japanese restaurant to learn a thing or two about the work of the waitress. We always have a theme. It’s important to talk about a specific theme with your staff. It’s about sharing our opinions with one another.