Food is something remembered with your body, not your head.
After such a tough period, you have come to the point where you manage several restaurants as a representative of inventive Chinese cuisine. There are many managers who struggle in training staff members; what about you?
It is very difficult. Young people now try to think with their head but do not try to remember using their bodies. People say it is an old style, to remember with your body, but I think there is no “old” or “new” when it comes to teaching.
It won’t be “cuisine” if you only think with your head. With Chinese food, we do not taste.
We judge by colors, smells and the sounds of the sauce. I think it is the same for Japanese and French. The soup especially is the core of Chinese food, but the boiling time is different each day, and those who remember using their bodies can sense that.
Thinking with our heads means thinking by quantity. So the taste is not stable. Young people now have the skill to make something that looks stylish, and they have wonderful ideas, but taste does not evolve with such skills.
In our restaurant, we train staff under the educational principle of remembering using their bodies, and we complete in seven years that which usually takes fifteen years. There are many trainees in their thirties who work as head chef surrounded by older staff. It is because they are just so talented.
Actual working time and the amount of work done are different compared to before.
Mr. Kiyomi Mikuni (Hotel de Mikuni) trained at the Imperial Hotel back then under head chef Monsieur Murakami (Mr. Nobuo Murakami).
He regretted his own lack of ability, so he stayed there to study Monsieur’s sense of taste.
It was said that he would scrub Monsieur’s pans until about four in the morning.
It takes that much.
Now, working long hours can get you sued. But if you can master all the jobs in eight hours a day, we would have done it, too. But we couldn’t, so we worked late nights and on holidays.
Why? Because we chefs are artisans. By honing our skills we can leave traditions and culture to the next generations. That is the mission of artisans. I think they do not understand that. They think the occupation called chef is a job to earn money in exchange for working.
I want many chefs who worked at “Gi’s” to go out into the world.
It might be difficult for them to understand the difference between practice and work. Do you change the educational policy to adjust to the mentality of young chefs?
Of course I change it. Basically, the policy is to praise and develop. But ones who does not grow does not improve no matter how many times I teach them kindly.
I tell them that if they want to learn skills, they might want to come in earlier and study.
They say, “Okay, I will work hard starting tomorrow” but never come in on the next day.
There is no way that they can grow.
On the other hand, for a quick learner, we’ll drink together and I’ll say, “You will surely grow. What do you think?” If he says, “I want to do it.” I start, Spartan style.
I teach him once again, from the beginning.
It is not all the same education; you train them differently depending on personality.Have you been thinking about your successor?
Basically, I want my trainees to fly as they like. I think it is okay to give someone the whole store, and I want to let them become independent if they want to.
I want many chefs who worked at “Gi’s” to go out into the world and share my food.
It is such a joy when they graduate and flourish.
You have many titles, such as International Tourist Ambassador, International Senator in the World Union of Chinese Cuisine, and Ambassador of Taiwanese Gourmet Food. What is the reason for actively engaging in these activities?
It is not money or fame. I think my duties as a chairman and what-not are a way to help spread Chinese food to the world and to connect Japanese food culture with other countries.
I think it would be great if “Gi’s food” leaves its mark on history. So for the next ten years I want to hone my skills further, challenge myself in various businesses, and spread “Gi’s food” all over the world.
(Interview: Osamu Saito Writer: Tomoko Tanaka Photographer: Takashi Oka)
A plate Mr. Gi cooked for the interview.