Each day, Thierry Voisin cycles both ways between his Hanzomon apartment and the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo. "I have new eyes here," he said. "For me, this is like another planet."

Young and sparkling, Voisin is the chef brought in April from France to take over management of the famed hotel's main French dining room, Les Saisons. This appointment of a full-time chef from overseas marks an unusual step for the hotel to take. After complete renovation by Parisian designer Francois Le Grix, the highly acclaimed Les Saisons reopened as Voisin arrived to reveal its intensified French presence in Tokyo. When with his recipes he is in his working milieu, Voisin could still be in France.

With his parents and older brother and sister, Voisin lived in a three-generation household in Tours, where his grandmother took care of the family cooking. She did it to such effect that "nobody else was cooking in our family," Voisin said. At 15 he entered a culinary school. "When you finished that school you said you could cook, but I can tell you, you could do nothing," he said, his accent and his mannerisms underlining his French origins. Twice he took a summer job, where he "washed mussels and peeled potatoes." At 17 he went to a chateau in the French Alps, where at first he continued to peel and chop vegetables. He progressed during five years there, until he was promoted to being in charge of meat, fish, and entrees. He moved to Paris, then to Rheims, where "everything was great."