Option to become a “chef” that was blocked because of a preconceived notion
Were you trying to become a chef from the beginning?
I was actually interested in fashion first, so I actually wanted to become a stylist. I was a senior in high school. The job as a stylist was not very well known at the time. I talked to my teacher about it, but he did not understand it, and therefore did not encourage it.
Through my teacher’s recommendation, I ended up working at a Kimono store. While I liked Western-style fashion, I did not like Japanese clothes. As such, it did not last long, and I ended up quitting that job.
I arrived in Tokyo in June, and job application period had closed by then.
I needed a job to live, so I worked at a Kyoto-style Tonkatsu restaurant during the day, and at a café at night.
How did you change from wanting to become a stylist to a chef?
There was an Italian café/restaurant at the time called “Kukkudore” in Harajuku. Meeting chef Taguchi at that restaurant was a big influence.
At the time, I envisioned a chef to be “shabby-looking old man,” but Mr. Takana explained to me about really fancy pasta dishes. He seemed like a really cool chef, even with my biased views. During my time there, I had so much fun when cooking food in the kitchen. I gradually began thinking about “going into the world of cooking.”
My view toward chefs changed greatly, and I am glad to have come out to Tokyo, even though I had no concrete plans. Following year, I went back to my hometown and started culinary school.
I really wanted to go to France after I graduate, but I had no idea how to make that happen. I got an offer to work at “Regence,” a French restaurant in Tokyo that the school recommended, but it was unexpectedly rescinded in February.
When I was worried about what to do, the owner of the restaurant, where I was working at the time, introduced me to the executive chef at a restaurant in Osaka. I was told that I could learn the classic techniques of French cuisine there, so I decided to work there.
The path that started without a clear idea begins to show definitive colors
How did you spend your training period?
Fundamentally, 3 years are to be devoted to customer service. There was a tacit rule that one cannot work in the kitchen without having worked in the dining room. In spite of this rule, I was able to get into the kitchen right away, thanks to the recommendation by the restaurant manager. Other staff did not like this at all. 4 off-days in a month were reduced to 2 due to events. It was physically exhausting, partly due to the fact that I was commuting from Kyoto.
Regardless, once a month, I went to “Okumura,” an up-scale restaurant in Kitayama, Kyoto, to learn. I was completely captivated by its novel style of French cuisine incorporating Japanese elements.
Until then, I wanted to work at a “Western cuisine restaurant,” but that gradually changed. I began to “want to work at Okumura.” When I asked Mr. Okumura, the owner, “Can I please work here?”, he hired me immediately.
I quit my previous job and started working at “Okumura.”
I planned to stay there for about 3 years to learn the techniques, but I was so comfortable there that I ended up being there for 10 years. There were so many great opportunities at this restaurant including the customers, who come from all over Japan, the high-level of offerings, and variety of events. I learned so many things at “Okumura,” so much so that I was never even curious about working anywhere else.