Top chocolatier goes all in on Japan confectionery

by Norio Miwa

Kyodo

Hironobu Tsujiguchi grew up in a family that ran a confectionery shop in Ishikawa Prefecture on the Sea of Japan, but it was the scrumptious cake he tasted at a friend’s birthday party in third grade that determined his destiny — to become a world-class patissier.

In realizing his dream, Tsujiguchi moved to Tokyo at age 18 as an apprentice to become a pastry chef, and at 23 became the youngest-ever winner of the all-Japan patisserie artisan contest. Over the years, he has accumulated more than 30 awards.

“I have won all the titles that I have desired,” the 46-year-old Tsujiguchi said, his latest achievement coming last month when he received the top award at the Salon du Chocolat global chocolate fair in Paris.

“I went into the competition absolutely determined to win. I’m happy to be able to receive the award,” he said. Tsujiguchi was among 12 chocolatiers to win the highest rating of “five chocolate bars plus a star” at the fair, the world’s largest event of its kind.

His winning entry — Nano Chocolate — is a series of bite-sized chocolates created with a new ingredient by “nanotizing” cacao nibs.

“One’s career is ranked by results at this competition. I worked on this by researching from all angles,” he said. “By allowing a greater surface area (of the cacao bean) to be exposed on the tongue, it brings out a more intense cacao flavor.”

The Nano Chocolates included one flavored with Japanese “sansho” peppercorns and another with a hint of Japanese “yuzu” citron, among other flavors. Tsujiguchi’s new creation was praised as being an “exquisitely refined, delicate and innovative technology.”

He opened his first patisserie in 1998 in Tokyo and has gone on to open several other shops, including Le Chocolat de H, focusing on chocolate, in Roppongi in 2003. He said he wanted to “dig into each genre one by one.”

Meanwhile, to train young people, he opened a confectionery school in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, in April 2012. Another school is scheduled to open in Okinawa in 2015.

“Just as there is ‘kado’ for the art of ikebana flower arrangement and ‘sado’ for tea ceremony, it would make sense to have a ‘do’ (way) in the world of confectionery,” he said. “Using sweets as the pivotal medium, I would like to convey to the world the combined Japanese culture of food, ingredients and ‘omotenashi’ (Japanese-style hospitality).”