Don’t figure it out with your head, learn it with your body.
Have you had many experiences at the various restaurants of the Kagaman group?
Yes. After working at the main branch for seven years, I was entrusted with preparing food in front of customers for the first time at the hot tofu restaurant, Kadonoya. At the main branch, Kagaman, Japanese cuisine is the main focus, but at each of the other restaurants, different menus are offered, such as tempura or hotpot. Lately there have been less, but a long time ago, there were frequent exchanges of people at each restaurant. Luckily for me, for the first year, I had the experience of being moved to each restaurant every two months to train, and the different restaurants had various different ways of doing things. You may be thinking, “What can you learn in two months?” However, just having that little bit of experience, I can oddly read most situations, even now. Then, a few years later, when I had some other positions, there were times when things were really easy to do.
So is the “memory” of all the various restaurants important?
No, it’s not “memory” like when you understand something and memorize it with your head. Through training, you ingrain things into your body. At first, senior staff members are scary, and you’re almost working in a state of terror. [laughs] But after a short while, your body comes to move naturally, like, “In this situation, you do this.” When time is of the essence in the kitchen, thinking then working will slow you down. There’s a tendency to say, “I understand,” when being taught by a senior staff member, but it’s no good to understand something with your head. If you don’t ingrain it into your body, then you’ll never really become able to move. It’s hard to get people to understand that at first, but if staff members who have overcome that can grow, that restaurant will absolutely become great.
Balancing tradition and novelty, “First of all, try it out.”
Is there anything you’ve come up with at the restaurants?
If pressed, I would say I’m a doer – I can’t stay still. I’m the type that, if I think of something, I immediately want to do it. Of course, at first, I test recipes properly, but… Instead of always making things according to the recipe, I think a lot about things like, “How would it be if I augmented the arrangement?” or, “How about using different ingredients?” Fundamentals are really important, so I keep them in mind. But at the same time, and to the best of my ability, I try to keep an awareness of, “First of all, try it out,” so that I don’t get caught up in limits or fixed ideas. The owner of Kagaman also has some innovative aspects, so when I was planning new menus, I would consult with him and get his advice. There were also times, when something was no good, he would clearly say, “Out of the question!” [laughs]
Balancing tradition and novelty is hard, isn’t it!
It really is difficult. At Kagaman, we place a lot of importance on making use of the quality of the ingredients as much as possible. For example, at the main branch, we have a sukiyaki menu. One time, we had a discussion: “Let’s try it at lunchtime.” It was within our capacity to do so, and we could do it at a reasonable price, so if we wanted to, we could have done it. However, the owner definitely doesn’t want to do anything unless you can say, “There’s no way we’ll lose to another restaurant.” If you’re going to do something, it’s pointless unless you are able to think, “This is the most delicious!” The restaurant where I work as the manager, Man’u, is an oden restaurant. So I place a lot of importance on the basic idea of getting people to think, “Ah… the daikon radish is delicious!” First of all, take the quality of the basics to the greatest extent possible. At the top of all that, I think the aspects of “play” and “novelty” are found.