From a shop in a small town to a hotel
What made you decide to move to a different restaurant after working in Sannouhanten for five years?
I started thinking about working at a different place once I started understanding the necessary skills in the kitchen and how life goes on. I thought I wouldn’t be in a better position for a while, even if I continued to work there. So I decided to get out of that place. I started working at Lou Lan right after I turned 20 years old.
After doing an apprenticeship for three years in Lou Lan, you moved to the hotel.
I used to work at a shop in a small town so I wanted to work for a big organization like a hotel. I spent time working at a hotel in Shibuya, then worked at the Tokyo Hilton. I had a strong desire to work at the Hilton but I thought I would need more experience to work at a hotel, as I only had an apprenticeship under the supervision of a small-town shop owner. That’s why I decided to get more experience before that.
Did you have a mindset of “seeing the world” already?
No, I didn’t think that way but everything was different in the Hotel. The number and type of customers are different and they do many things such as parties, dinner shows, and even weddings. There were so many different events so it was very different from a normal restaurant.
You must have struggled a lot to work in a hotel after working in a small shop in another town.
I worked eight hours a day, five days a week so it wasn’t that tough. I mainly worked in the kitchen and helped make appetizers and main dishes. The kitchen next to us was a French cuisine kitchen so I went there when I was free to help and learn from them.
What was your last position at the Tokyo Hilton?
I was a sous chef before the Tokyo Hilton changed its name to Capitol Hotel Tokyu. After that, I worked as a member of the opening staff of the restaurant in Tachikawa Resent Hotel.
It was very hard to work as opening staff. We needed to do everything by ourselves such as preparing dishes, curtains, and seasoning dishes. We needed to build the “rails.” However, I began to have a desire to take on challenges after years of working in the restaurant. It was a very meaningful job for me.
Chef Ishinabe came all the way to Tachikawa to eat my cooking . He asked me, “There will be a new hotel built soon – would you like to work there with me?” It was the Pan Pacific Hotel and we launched Turandot Yusenkyo.
To face what customers wish depended on the trends of the times.
I became a head chef for the first time in Tachikawa. Before that, I couldn’t even try what I wanted to without permission. There are only three sizes of dishes, small, medium and large, in Chinese cuisine. It is called “isshomori,” which means “served together.” Small dishes can be shared with two to three people, so if a group of two people would come and order a couple of small dishes, they would become full. Even if you ask the restaurant to make half portions, they won’t do that. On the other hand, Italian or French restaurants usually prepare a small dish for each on of you. Therefore, you can use these kinds of restaurants for dates or client dinners. Chinese cuisine in the old days was very different from what it is now. It used to be for many people to enjoy and talk to each other. I wanted to change that image. I wanted to make a Chinese restaurant that can be chosen for a date, and try many different kinds of dishes. I wanted to change the mindset that said, “This is Chinese cuisine so you will serve it as isshomori.” I realized that I could only make an adequate amount of dishes for the number of customers, like the adequate amount of limited people. It is important to face the reality of time requirements and the customers’ wants. The profits may go down for a while but the customers coming to my restaurant once a month may come twice a month or more. Twice may become four times. So, I need to think about how I could care for these kinds of things.
You opened your own restaurant, Wakiya-Ichiemicharou, after that.
My first restaurant was Wakiya. I started my career as a chef at Sannouhanten so I always wanted to have a restaurant in Akasaka if I chose to have one. Of course things didn’t go that well from the beginning but there were some returning customers and they brought their friends and so on… Eventually many customers came to my restaurant by word of mouth. Even though I have my own restaurant, my feeling about cooking hasn’t changed. However, if I have debt after being a restaurant owner, I feel a lot of pressure. I worked so hard to make our customers feel like coming back to my restaurant again by providing great food and services no matter what kind of difficulties I face.