A to-do list in order to keep a Michelin star
What kind of people are your masters, and your rivals?
There is no particular master or rival. In fact, everyone is my master and rival.
The food that my customers eat is not only Chinese cuisine. It might be Japanese or it might be Western. In any case, when it comes to eating, everything can be a rival, no matter the category.
And I can learn something from any chef and any food. There are foods that I want to be role models, and vice versa. In a way, all the people and foods I have met are my masters.
When I work not only for a restaurant but also for TV, I get to learn many things.
Sometimes having someone being mad at you is a happy thing.
People can learn something from anything. I think that is what we call growth.
So I want to study more and more, and I don’t want to be defeated when it comes to cooking.
I am only ever thinking about having as many people as possible who can say, “Wong’s food makes me want to eat again.”
Out job has not ended. This is a field that allows us to evolve if we put in enough effort.
Every time is a battle, and only a job with no mistakes is acceptable.
What do you focus on now?
As far as returning the favor to Japanese society, I think that training young chefs is my most important job now. I’m working as a teacher at a culinary school.
This is a field in which many are coming in, but many are also leaving at the same time.
There are many tough things about this work, but at Imperial Palace we think we are training young people with care.
Actually, we have high retention, and we have people who flourish at other restaurants after gaining experience here, or even opening their own restaurants as owners.
In training young people, what do you pay attention to?
I think it is important to “explain” enough. The basics are that seniors first explain, then show examples, and then let the juniors do it. At Imperial Palace, before scolding, we check if the senior explained well enough. Most of the mistakes come from not teaching well enough.
The environment and education might be different for young people today.
But they respond well if we teach them well.
And for their growth it is important to have an environment with occasional competition.
Conflicts are also needed. By having conflicts, they can have discussions honestly. When there is a person with the mental capacity and without it, I explain the difference to them.
For growth, it is sometimes necessary to fire someone up, and spark his competitive side.
My way is military-style and I say harsh things, but I try to not only tighten them up, but also give time to loosen up. Your thinking abilities are developed with those two are in a rhythm.
Oh, also, when I come to work every morning, I look closely at heir faces as I greet them. I get to see various thing by just doing that. “He seems to be fine,” or “He might have had a fight with his girlfriend,” etc. Just before people quit they show various signs and I get to notice that kind of thing.
Harsh but full of love. Do you have any dream for the future?
Dream for the future? I am over the retirement age. But I want to keep cooking in the field as much as possible. I have worked at many restaurants but Imperial Palace is the last place for me. I want to strive in order to have Imperial Palace thrive.
Another dream is to train the younger generations. I want to train the best team members and have successors so we do not stop receiving stars from the Michelin Guide.
And it is the most fun to see their growth.
Chefs cannot keep standing on their own after ten years. This is a tough job but it’s also worth doing. I want as many young people as possible to know the pleasure of it. And making the environment for them to be able to work hard is one of my current missions. I think there are many things I can do still.
(Interview: Osamu Saito Writer: Yohei Ueda Photographer: Kenichi Hisaoka)
A plate he quickly prepared for the interview