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Takashi Miyazaki: Food ambassador to Ireland

by

Special To The Japan Times

Chef Takashi Miyazaki has a Cork accent.

It’s a hard accent to pin down, but ‘de Cork’ accent sounds somewhere between the lilt of the Caribbean Islands and being happily constipated. It’s not the only thing Miyazaki has picked up since opening his bijou Japanese restaurant in Ireland’s second city in 2015.

Miyazaki’s eponymous restaurant — a takeout with space for a few stools — has twice been included in Ireland’s list of best 100 restaurants and Miyazaki has also been voted best chef in Cork. Critics and patrons have been making pilgrimages and novelist David Mitchell, who also lives in Cork, described Miyazaki’s cooking as the “best street food I’ve had inside and outside Japan. It’s sushi, bentos, noodles, ramen and more. It’s just no frills, beautiful, exquisitely prepared, pure and great tasting.”

Like many in Japan, Miyazaki landed his first job in cooking part time at an izakaya while at college in Fukuoka studying economics. He was on a kendo scholarship, and his parents had designs on him graduating and proceeding to the police force.

Up until that first gig in the izakaya, cooking had not been on Miyazaki’s radar. His grandmother was a great cook he says; he admits to not being a fan of his mother’s cooking, although, he’s gracious enough to point out that as a full-time nurse, she had her hands full, and “didn’t have time to prep.”

Miyazaki was not long for university life. Defying his parents’ wishes of a dependable job for life as a policeman (“I don’t think so”), he quit and took a job at a restaurant in the upmarket Hotel Nikko Fukuoka, saying that he was “really bad in the beginning.”

A few years later he decamped to work at another hotel, this time in Tokunoshima, a subtropical island north of Okinawa (“I actually thought Tokunoshima was in Okinawa, but it’s not”), where he learned to make miso, beef up his repertoire of regional dishes, especially fish dishes, and play at the hotel bar with his band.

After island life, he returned to the mainland to run a relative’s okonomiyaki restaurant in Hiroshima, but left soon after. “Our theories of food were totally different,” he says. In Hiroshima, however, he landed a job as head chef in Molly Malone’s, an Irish bar. Do you see where this is going?

While at Molly Malone’s, Miyazaki met his future wife who had come to Japan from Ireland on the JET program. After a couple of visits to Ireland, Miyazaki thought there was opportunity and potential there.

So in 2008, right about the same time Ireland went broke, and then bankrupt in the wake of years of financial greed and giddiness, Miyazaki moved to Ireland on a work visa.

Like many Japanese, Miyazaki is stoical, but starting over, especially given the dire state of Ireland’s economy, was not easy. However, people everywhere have to eat, so he banked on slotting into the hospitality industry as millions of immigrants the world over have done, are doing and will do.

Miyazaki’s first job at a hotel in the Irish midlands lasted four weeks. He was informed by text message from the owner that the hotel was closing.

“When I went back to the hotel to get my knives, the doors were locked, the owner had gone,” Miyazaki recalls. He also lost his work permit as it was tied to the job. A lot of phone calls and €1,000 later, he secured another permit.

When another hotel he worked at in the midlands went bankrupt Miyazaki and his wife decided it was time to move on. Opening his own restaurant had always been his goal, and after plenty of road trips around the country and sounding out people on Japanese food, Miyazaki and his wife settled on Cork. But, even then, for the first six months Miyazaki couldn’t find work.

By 2015, after two years of scouring the city, Miyazaki opened his take-away-cum-restaurant on the premises of a Chinese takeout that seemed to have been round almost as long as the Great Wall of China.

Catherine Cleary, a restaurant critic for the Irish Times, told me that “Miyazaki stands out because it’s little more than a take-away on a residential street well off Cork’s main restaurant strip. So you feel like it’s a secret. But it’s serving the best food in the city.”

In some ways Miyazaki is Japan’s (unofficial) food ambassador to Ireland. Miyazaki said that when he moved to Ireland in 2008 Japanese food wasn’t yet a trend; it was still a few years before washoku would be made an intangible world heritage.

Miyazaki’s mission has been to open the pantry of Japanese food, and to make it affordable.

“There are so many types of Japanese food. It is like a treasure box. I want people to enjoy the real flavors of Japan.”

He’s probably done more than anyone in Ireland in a few short years to bring dashi to the masses (“I want people to feel and taste dashi”). He’s regularly called on to give cooking demonstrations on TV, he’s also given demos at one of the country’s biggest music festivals.

For the Tanabata festival in 2016, he opened a pop-up restaurant deep inside Mitchelstown Cave in Co. Tipperary, hauling down enough food to feed 30 people. Even Miyazaki’s Instagram and Twitter feeds are as much an education as a way to promote the day’s specials.

Next up for Miyazaki is opening Ireland’s first kaiseki restaurant. He wants to keep it in Cork, his adopted home, where he lives with his wife and their two young boys. He’ll keep the takeaway open as it’s special to him, it’s where he began, and “it’s in a special part of the city.”

It wouldn’t be fair to finish without pointing out that since Miyazaki became a celebrated chef, his mother has got a lot better at cooking.

“It’s kind of a competition between us,” he says, laughing.

Profile

Name: Takashi Miyazaki

Profession: Chef, restaurant owner

Hometown: Fukuoka

Age: 42

Key moments in career:

2004 — Starts work at an Irish bar in Hiroshima and meets his future wife

2008 — Moves to Ireland

2015 — Opens Miyazaki

Things I miss about Japan: The ocean (“the water is too cold here in Ireland”) and okonomiyaki restaurants.

Introduction to Ireland: Listening to U2’s “Rattle and Hum” and “The Joshua Tree” in high school


● 宮﨑崇

職業:シェフ、レストラン経営者

出身地:福岡県福岡市

年齢:42

転機:

2004年 広島のアイリッシュパブ「モリー マローンズ」で働き始め、将来の妻 と出会う

2008年 アイルランドに引っ越す

2015年 コークに MIyazaki を開店する

日本を恋しく思うもの:海とお好み焼き店

宮崎崇氏が2年前にアイルランド第2の都市コークで開店した Miyazaki は地元で評判の日本料理店だ。と言ってもその形態は持ち帰り専門の中華料理店跡地を改装した小さなテイクアウト店。それでも同国のベストレストラン100店に2度選ばれ、料理評論家らが足しげく通う。看護師だった母親の料理はあまり好きではなかったと話す宮崎氏。料理人としてのキャリアは大学時代の居酒屋バイトから始まった。大学中退後、ホテルのレストランスタッフ、親戚のお好み焼き店店長を経て、広島のアイリッシュパブの料理長を務め、そこでアイルランドから来日中だった将来の妻と出会った。経済危機の最中に彼女の母国に移住。勤務先のホテルが相次いで倒産し、ビザを失うなどの不運に見舞われた後、妻と2人で自分の店を出すことを決意する。目抜き通りから外れた住宅街にある隠れ家風の店は本物の日本料理の味を提供している。地元の催しで屋台を出店したり、テレビ番組で料理を披露したりと宮崎氏は今や「日本料理大使」。次なる挑戦は、コーク市に懐石料理店をオープンすることだ。