Top chef’s next project: French food Japan-style

by Kikuyo Komesu

Kyodo News

Celebrated Japanese chef Tateru Yoshino, who manages four French restaurants in Paris and Tokyo, all of which have received stars from the French guidebook Michelin, is gearing up to open another restaurant in Tokyo this spring to serve French cuisine with a “Japanese taste.”

“I’d like to make the place like an atelier where I can try and experiment with a new way of cooking,” Yoshino said, adding he will try to come up with a new type of cuisine based on ingredients used in Japanese cooking. “I want to serve dishes sort of like Japanese cuisine and sort of like French cuisine.”

The 58-year-old spent years in France mastering the French culinary arts and running the critically acclaimed restaurant Stella Maris in Paris, before opening the eponymous restaurant Tateru Yoshino Shiba in Tokyo in 2003.

As a result, his upscale cuisine unapologetically hews to classical French style.

Diners at Tateru Yoshino Shiba as well as other branches can enjoy artfully presented cuisine in elegant surroundings.

The new eatery in Tokyo, however, will be “a more casual one and less expensive,” with a bar as well as tables. It will be an environment, he says, in which he will be able to have more communication with diners.

He is considering serving noodles with goat meat and vegetables, a specialty from his home town on the subtropical Kikai Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, as well as dishes using brown sugar and sesame oil, also signature local products.

Although during his time in France, many people asked why he did not run a Japanese-style bistro, he did not even try to attain fusion between French and Japanese cuisines as he was more interested in authentic French cooking and the country’s gastronomic culture.

The more he mastered French culinary arts, the more he wanted to confirm whether his cooking would be genuinely accepted.

Stella Maris was awarded one star by Michelin in 2006, and Tateru Yoshino Shiba got two stars in 2010 after receiving a one-star rating in 2007. Two other branches in Tokyo were also given one-star ratings. All four dining halls have maintained their ratings.

“For a cook in France, receiving a star from Michelin is like receiving a medal or decoration. It’s natural for cooks young and old to aim at receiving it,” Yoshino said, admitting he also worked hard to get one after he opened the Paris eatery in 1997.

But Yoshino, who was picked as the chief chef for the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2007, says he does not fret over ratings anymore. “The most important thing is to hear your customers say, ‘The food was great,’ or, ‘We’ll come again,’ after finishing their meal,” he said.

“This is true for all cooks whether he works at a Japanese restaurant or a sushi bar,” he added.

As Yoshino strove to master authentic French cooking and gain recognition as a prominent chef in the industry, he also came to realize “the universality of cooking.”

He believes cooks put their heart and soul into their creations.

“The food disappears in a minute or two but if I sincerely do my job as a cook and my staff and apprentices take over my job, I think those dishes will be left to posterity like music scores,” he said.

Yoshino said he is glad he has been able to make such dishes in the home of French cuisine and to bring them back to Japan with him. He is now ready to explore a new horizon at his latest restaurant.

“It’s important to make dishes that fit with the times . . . I believe that inventing and establishing dishes that no one has tried is my way of life,” he said.

The Japanese chef thinks now is the time for him to combine his knowledge and mastery of the French culinary arts with those of Japan, which he learned at several famous Japanese-style restaurants before going to France.

“It’s a new challenge for me,” he said.

If the “experiments” at the new restaurant go well, he might try to run a similar restaurant in France, he said.

As part of his new challenge, he has been strengthening ties with local businesses in Japan recently, working on a variety of recipes using indigenous products from Wakayama Prefecture, while supporting a restaurant as an adviser on the island of Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea.