Futoshi Ota has lofty goals for Noz, a new restaurant that brings the grand vision of his company one step closer to reality.
“I want people in Japan to know what real agriculture, what the real organic culture is like. What’s a healthy way of eating.” The president of T.Y. Farm Inc., the company behind the just-opened eatery on Tennozu Isle, doesn’t stop there:
“I want Tokyo to be more of a real international city,” he says. “It looks like one, but it isn’t 100 percent there yet.”
To that end he has launched Noz (full title: Noz by T.Y. Farm), a casual restaurant featuring all organic and gluten-free dishes using fresh, locally grown and seasonal vegetables. It takes cues from similar spots found on the west coast of the United States in line with the farm-to-table ethos, along with culinary trends that now hold sway in Los Angeles. Kale dominates the menu, from the Caesar salad to the “Kale beer.”
Noz isn’t the first Tokyo venue that caters to a health-conscious crowd, nor is it the first to pick up Stateside food developments and sell them to a Japanese audience. In the last couple of years, stores peddling pricey cold-pressed fruit juices are proliferating, while a series of shops imitating American salad chains such as Chopt and Sweetgreen have also sprouted. One can now find a “green smoothie” in most convenience store drink sections. And of course, the term “organic” gets tossed around a lot by newer restaurants in the city.
“There is no restaurant directly connected to a farm in Tokyo” Ota tells the Japan Times two days before Noz’s grand opening on April 7. “Others use good vegetables bought from a merchant. Our team is different, as the farmer, chef and everyone else involved are connected directly. This is common in the U.S. and Europe, so why is there nobody doing it in Asia?”
Noz is directly linked to T.Y. Farm, a project started in 2015 in the Western Tokyo city of Ome. “I used to believe we couldn’t have huge farms in Tokyo,” Ota says. Although space is still at a premium, especially compared to the more spacious fields of Hokkaido, starting the farm taught him that it’s still possible to cultivate agriculture in an urban area. “I used to think Tokyo was totally messed up, but we tested our soil, and there were no problems with it at all.”
T.Y. Farm, which currently boasts around 25 employees, grows a wide variety of vegetables, including kale, arugula, beets and tomatoes, while also producing honey. Ota stresses that they use no pesticides or chemicals on their produce, and that new harvests are grown using the seeds of previous ones.
Before Noz, T.Y. Farm sold its fresh produce at various farmers markets around Tokyo, while also selling to various restaurants. Tysons & Company, which operates a wide variety of restaurants in Tokyo including T.Y. Harbor, just steps away from Noz’s current location, sourced all of their vegetables from the farm, developing a close relation with them in the process. “Last year, we brought them pumpkins, and they made a special craft beer at their brewery,” T.Y. Farm Operations Manager Akihiro Nonaka says.
This helped connect T.Y. Farm to Warehouse Terrada, a storage company now chiefly focused on revitalizing Tennozu Isle. They teamed up with T.Y. Farm and gave space to what would grow to become Noz (the name comes from the fourth, fifth and sixth letters of Tennozu), a restaurant that cuts out the produce middleman, while also paying tribute to Terrada’s past by incorporating old warehouse pallets into its interior design.
All they lacked was a chef. Luckily, Ota knew Hirotaka Nishida, who spent several years cooking in Italy, including at Michelin-starred restaurants Torre Del Saracino (two stars) and Il Piastrino (one star). “We graduated from the same high school in Tokyo,” Ota says, adding with a laugh that “he used to do yakitori when we were teens.” The two kept in touch, and even visited one another while Nishida was in Europe. When the opportunity for Noz came up, Ota reached out.
Nishida helped to develop a menu that emphasizes the taste of the vegetables themselves. During a pre-opening media event, Ota made it clear that Noz’s leafy greens don’t get coated in too much dressing, as that drowns out their natural taste. Rather, the staff use just a little bit of olive oil and salt. They also serve smaller portions to further highlight the flavors. It comes across in the dishes, such as an item featuring a mix of greens, quinoa, carrots and crispy royal pork from Okinawa. A lemon tart also shines, especially to our gluten-free photographer, who says it is the best she’s ever had.
Noz functions like many fast-casual restaurants geared toward those who want to enjoy a quality meal but don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it (which probably applies to the bulk of workers on Tennozu) — customers go to a counter, order and then watch as the staff puts their order together. “Everything should be seen by the customer — we aren’t lying to them,” Ota says. He adds that they were inspired by Din Tai Fung, a Taipei-born xiaolongbao steamed bun restaurant where the whole process of creating the food is visible to visitors. Ota also wanted to channel the farmers markets T.Y. Farm frequents with an area near the Noz entrance offering fresh vegetables, honey and other organic creations for purchase.
The opening of Noz helps T.Y. Farm inch closer to one of its biggest goals: “We want to do everything,” says Senior Managing Executive Officer Hideyuki Ikeura. “We started with the farm, now we have a restaurant, and we sell vegetables … not in a store exactly, but at farmers markets. So we kind of do retail.”
They want to open more restaurants in the future, but are still thinking about just what forms those might take. The key, to them, is that it goes through the farmer.
“It’s not like fashion, it’s like culture,” Ota says.