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Ian Philip Tozer: ‘Like good wine, age helps’

by Elliott Samuels

Name: Ian Philip Tozer
Age: 52
Nationality: British
Occupation: Chef/restaurant entrepreneur
Likes: Steak, good wine, his iPod
Dislikes: Taking the subway, nattō, meaningless conversation

1. What first brought you to Japan? A friend and fellow chef that I worked with in Los Angeles, David Chiddo.

2. What’s keeping you here? My family, which in Japan is just my restaurant, ROTI ROPPONGI, who is now a teenager at 13 years old.

3. Where do you go to escape Tokyo? Home to the U.K. I split my time these days 50/50 in the U.K. and Japan. After many years in Tokyo, I really needed to escape and get some life balance. Now I think my work has improved and my general mental state is much more inspired. It’s also great for my air miles account.

4. What’s your favorite phrase? “I have a cunning plan.” I love Blackadder.

5. What’s the most exciting thing you have ever done? Racing my Yamaha R1 round (Twin Ring) Motegi circuit.

6. What’s the most outrageous thing you have ever done? Pulling off a fancy gourmet dinner on Alcatraz for 600 New York bankers flown in by helicopter in the late ’80s. The tables were spread throughout the cell blocks. Stressful but lots of fun.

7. What song best describes your work ethic? “Takin’ Care Of Business” by Bachman Turner Overdrive. If you want to create something with longevity in my business (which I do), you have to balance creative inspiration with reliable and constant back-of-the-house grunt work.

8. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? The sugar shaker for use with a side of mashed potato from a young Japanese girl sitting at the bar. She even complemented me on the mash before she left.

9. If you could cook dinner for any three people in history, who would you choose? Keith Moon, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed. It would just be one hell of a lot of fun, maybe light on food, heavy on the drinks and perhaps they would invite me out after for some fun in Roppongi!!!

10. If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you be? Caesar because it’s strong and pungent. Who wants to be bland or be described as a light fruity vinaigrette?

11. How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator? Open the refrigerator, put in the elephant, close the refrigerator. Keep things simple, I say.

12. What superhero would you most like to be? Iron Man — as long as I get the cool house, garage with the super cars in it and can have Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson to play with.

13. Tell us a quick joke. I’m on a whiskey diet. I’ve lost three days already.

14. What’s your karaoke song of choice? “Delilah” by Tom Jones. I can’t sing, but if I did would love to belt this one out. Tom is a cool guy, even if Welsh.

15. How now brown cow? “What’s next?” Continue my work at ROTI ROPPONGI and hope that it gets its place in Tokyo’s dining hall of fame. In the same way the restaurant is my child, the staff I choose to work with are my stepchildren. Hopefully I can pass on some wisdom to the next generation of young restaurant entrepreneurs.

16. How would you find a needle in a haystack? Buy a metal detector.

17. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? Being British and slightly royalist, I would have to go with the king of the jungle. The upper class always wins.

18. If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? Worked too hard, never quite made it — “yet” —but, like good wine, age helps.

19. What do you want to be when you grow up? I have no intention of growing up.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Now’s your chance.