Curiosity towards the culinary world, cultivated in childhood
Have you always liked cooking?
In my childhood in China, eating was my hobby. We were poor so that I caught fish from the river and cooked those. I cooked them with the scales on.
Both of my parents worked so by the time I was about 12 years old I was able to cook basic food. They were easy things, such as boiled dumplings and steamed bread. I liked studying, too, but I could not concentrate on that due to social conditions.
In the end I decided to become a chef.
If I could not continue studying, I had to survive with my skills.
I chose the chef’s path hoping that despite being a tough one, I could make many people happy with my food, if I had the skills.
You trained in Hong Kong first.
I went to Hong Kong when I was 19 years old. The first place I worked at was a big Chinese restaurant with 300 seats. It was 40 years ago so that restaurant no longer exists.
It was very big so I was only allowed to do simple chores. For the first year or so I cleaned the mess left after cutting vegetables, and as for cooking all I did was cut meat.
I did not know anything about cooking at all.
In China, dim sum and Chinese cuisine are done by different people.
The chefs who did dim sum and small plates came at three in the morning and went home at eleven.
The chefs who cooked meals came after that. In Japan now, there are not so many people so chefs do both, but over there, that’s how it is. In that kind of environment I was working with the meals.
While learning cooking from zero, I was also studying English and Cantonese.
It took English skills in order to work in Hong Kong, and even though it was Chinese food I was using Mandarin. I worked in the afternoon and I studied English at school three times a week.
By doing that I gained experience at several Chinese restaurants and brushed up my skills as a chef little by little. I think I stayend in Hong Kong for about three years. For me it was the place where I learned basic cooking.
Why did you come to Japan?
In Hong Kong back then there were many tourists from Japan. There were also many coming to our restaurants, but in Hong Kong there were no people who could speak Japanese at all, so it was like you could make living as a tour guide if you could just speak Japanese.
Then I felt like a kind of possibility in the country of Japan.
I decided to go to Japan, thinking it would be good to learn Japanese.
It was 1985 when I came to Japan.
Please tell me about your career here.
The first place I worked at was a Chinese restaurant in Shinsaibashi (in Osaka).
After that I worked as head chef in Sannomiya (in Kobe), then I went to the Chinese restaurant in a Kyoto hotel. It was a good experience since there was a Japanese restaurant next to ours and I could learn about Japanese cuisine. The time I spent in Kyoto was an exciting period for someone like me who only knew about Chinese cuisine. After that I started work at the Westin Hotel Osaka.
The tough thing when I came to Japan from China was the difference in ingredients.
It was difficult to get the dry foods and seasonings that we used for Chinese cuisine.
The vegetables are also different from those in China. I gradually leanrd to cook here by adjusting to Japanese food materials.
You were having tough time in some ways. How was the state of Chinese food back then?
Back then when we said “Chinese food,” that meant Mandarin food.
There were many foods cooked with oil and it meant Chinese food was oily food, and that’s just how it was.
And after that, Mr. Ching Ken Ming, father of Mr. Kenichi Ching, brought Sichuan cuisine to Japan.
We can certainly say that Sichuan cuisine was brough tot Japan by the Chings.
And after that, 30 years ago Mr. Tomitoku brought chefs from Hong Kong, and Cantonese cuisine was delivered to the country.
Among Chinese cuisines, Cantonese matches especially well with Japanese tastes.
It is applicable to Japanese cuisine that it is not just oily but it draws out the taste of the materials well. I think that’s why it has grown well in Japan.
All the chefs and foods I have met are my teachers. People can learn from anything.