Chef from ’64 Olympics looking forward to 2020

by Miki Nakanishi

Kyodo

Isamu Suzuki, a 73-year-old restaurant chef, is looking forward to watching the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. When the games were last in town in 1964 he didn’t get to watch any of the events — he was too busy feeding the athletes.

“Back then, I had no time to watch the games, but I want to watch them live this time,” he said during a recent interview. “I also want to see the kitchens in the (2020 Olympic) village.”

Suzuki was 24 in 1964. Although only a trainee chef, he was asked to work in the kitchens in the Olympic Village because of a shortage of cooks.

He said he can never forget the thoughtfulness of Yoshinobu Miyake, who won a gold medal in weightlifting. As Suzuki tells it, Miyake came to the kitchens, bowed deeply and said to the cooks there, “Thanks to all of you, I was able to win a medal.”

But for Suzuki it was a grueling month in the village. He woke up at 5 a.m. to help prep the kitchens and didn’t return to his room until late at night. During the busiest period, he had no days off.

“I thought of running away a million times,” he said.

In the village, he worked at the Fuji Shokudo restaurant managed by the late Nobuo Murakami, who later became head chef at the Imperial Hotel.

Every day, Murakami made different dishes from around the world — dishes that Suzuki had never seen or heard of before.

Ten years later, Suzuki went on to open his own restaurant, a Western-style establishment called Center Grill Yokodai in Yokohama, which he runs with his wife and son.

With Tokyo awarded the 2020 Olympics, memories of 1964 are flooding back. Among Suzuki’s treasures from that time are photos he took in the village and autographs he got from athletes.

“My wife complains that I have too much memorabilia,” he said.

Come the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Suzuki will be 80, but he has no plans to hang up his chef’s hat anytime soon.

“I certainly intend to keep cooking at my restaurant until then,” he said.