You can grow the most during your thirties. You can become stronger through regretful mistakes.
You were appointed as a chairman of the judges for RED U-35, the cooking competition for chefs under 35. What did you think about the people in their thirties, including yourself?
Usually we have a bit more responsibility in our thirties and can develop ourselves more. It is very important to train yourself during this kind of period. For chefs, I think between 30 and 40 is the most important period of time to mature. I think I matured most during my thirties. I had nothing to fear and wanted to try everything. I applied for many competitions during that time. When I was in Tachikawa, I was invited to perform on Iron Chef as a challenger so I accepted it gladly.
What did you think about performing in cooking competitions on TV?
I don’t often have experience in this kind of situation, having my food compared to others’ and judged in front of people . I don’t feel comfortable in this kind of situation. However, I enjoyed it to a point because I like thinking about how I could make an original flavor. It would be a lie if I said I didn’t feel any pressure to cook in a limited time. I needed to think about the cooking time and when would be the best time to eat after the meal was cooked. However, I enjoyed it because it was something I do every day at my restaurant. Well, I lost in the first competition. I felt so bad about it. I was too optimistic about my ideas and choice of ingredients. It was a 65 out of 100, if I were to judge myself. When I tried the second time, I overcame the mistakes and concentrated on adjusting the cooking time to cook how I envisioned.
At last, you won. What advice would you give to young chefs who will face challenges such as on the TV show RED U-35?
Well, young chefs in their twenties as well as their thirties should continue to enjoy cooking, considering they decided to pursue this career in the food industry. I really think that way. If you pursue your career in Chinese cuisine, you need to like Chinese cuisine. You also need to like your co-workers, chefs, and boss… You need to keep that in mind most of all. If you don’t like it, you can’t acquire skills well. If you like it very much, things will improve and develop. You need to make it a fundamental thought. If you add your dream and will to the mix after that, you will be able to accomplish what you want. There is a saying that goes, “Those who have will achieve their goal.” I always keep that in mind and tell myself that I need to have this kind of mindset. I think chefs can be accepted by anyone in the world. There are so many different ingredients and seasonings in the world. Even if you travel to other countries, you can make people smile by serving food with native ingredients. That’s a great skill that chefs have.
His mindset of making people happy by his cooking will never be changed.
What is your dream?
I don’t know if I can say it is a dream… but I would like to show the path from my apprenticeships to pursue further and be successful. That’s the best thing I can dream. Other than that, I am still in the process of developing myself. So, I wouldn’t say that this is my last challenge. Well, what I can say… I guess it must be great if I can serve food by looking at the ingredients of the day without thinking about anything complicated. I love cooking. If there are people who wish to eat my cooking, there are always smiles and fun conversations between us. And, my cooking will become more delicious through the atmosphere. Even if customers don’t say a word, I can understand them by looking at their ways of eating or drinking. It is the best thing to see. If they say “Oh, this is so good!” then I would say “Right?!”
(Interviewer: Saito Osamu Writer: Hanmura Mikio Photography: Shimizu Tomonari)