Preparation gives Kyoto chef a winning touch

by Akira Takahashi

Kyodo

Kenji Miura, chef at the French restaurant Beaux Sejours in the Grand Prince Hotel Kyoto, is known for his refined preparatory work that has made the 48-year-old a winner in domestic and international cooking contests.

Miura headed a team of six Japanese chefs in the 23rd World Cooking Olympics in 2012, winning silver and bronze medals in two key categories — taste and cooking techniques of Western cuisine.

While European contestants brought fresh items from their home countries, the Japanese team had to overcome various handicaps, including having to buy ingredients in Germany and their unfamiliarity with European cooking utensils. They were highly praised for their strong teamwork and sanitary use of their kitchen and refrigerator as a result of Miura’s preparations.

Miura began cooking for his younger brother in Kyoto’s Kamigyo Ward when he was in elementary school. A signature meal was a hamburger steak warmed in a retort pouch with a salad.

“It looked like a plate served at a restaurant,” Miura said. “I was the best at slicing cucumbers in a cooking class when I was a fifth-grader.”

“It looked like a restaurant dish,” Miura said. “I was the best at slicing cucumbers in a cooking class when I was a fifth-grader.”

Miura was the second best in a class of 40 students in his first year in high school. After graduating in 1983, he went to work as an apprentice cook at a time-honored hotel in Kyoto instead of going to college as his friends expected.

Senior cooks, like drill instructors, helped him hone his basic cooking skills. When he returned home, he practiced his own techniques, including flipping sand in a frying pan to master how to fold an omelet.

Working at the hotel for two years, Miura began to win the trust of senior cooks with his efficient preparation of their utensils.

He started working at the Otsu Prince Hotel in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, in 1992 to further improve his skills because “no one told me any more (at the Kyoto hotel) that I needed more training.” He added that he’s the type of person who puts himself in a tough situation and grows from it.

The Otsu Prince restaurant had a totally different atmosphere because 15 to 16 cooks competed with each other, in comparison with five or six working in a familylike environment at the Kyoto hotel. “It took a year and a half before I could feel my own presence there,” he said.

But Miura was “so forward-looking that he was different” from other cooks, recalled Yukihiro Koyama, 56, head banquet chef at Grand Prince Hotel Kyoto, who was his superior at Otsu Prince.

Miura won the Prince Hotel chain’s cooking competition in 1996 and then began to participate in various contests.

Now that Miura, who became the chief cook of Beaux Sejours two years ago, has achieved a level of professional accomplishment, he sees his next task as nurturing understudies, Koyama said.

But Miura has set his sights on another challenge:

While under optimum conditions a restaurant may prepare meals for two to four people at a time, but “I’d like to do the same for, say, 40 diners.”