Name: Elio Orsara
Likes: Creating new projects
Dislikes: The abuse of the weak
1. What first brought you to Japan? Adventure.
2. What’s keeping you here? New projects and people that I love.
3. When you think of Japan, you think of … civilization and the land of opportunity.
4. Whom in Japan do you most admire? Women, because they are smarter than men and they don’t pretend.
5. Where do you go to escape Tokyo? Hokkaido, as it reminds me of my hometown. The nature up there relaxes me.
6. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? “Fukanō na koto wa nai,” which means “Nothing is impossible.” It keeps me strong.
7. What’s your favorite phrase in any language? “Respect yourself and others.”
8. What first inspired you to travel around the world? I grew up in a resort area in southern Italy called Calabria. A lot of foreigners visited each summer, and I was curious to see their home countries and learn about their culture.
9. You say you traveled to the United States on a cruise ship called the “Love Boat.” It’s not the Loooooove Boat, is it? Any memories of note from the voyage? The Looooove Boat — I was hoping that would be the case, as I had seen lots of young people on the TV series. Once I arrived, however, I found out that there were actually a lot of elderly women on the boat.
10. You first started working in Japan as a supervisor at an Italian restaurant at the New Kobe Oriental Hotel. What was your first impression of Italian food in Japan at the time? In the old days, after World War II, the first pioneers who brought Italian food to Japan were Italian-Americans, so I was very disappointed because the food was mostly for kids and family restaurants, not for fine dining.
11. How much has changed since that time? In what way? In the bubble economy of the early ’90s, many great Italian chefs had been invited to Japan and the Italian food drastically improved. Japanese people eat quality not quantity and since they have a great food culture, they want the best. Nowadays, I can proudly say that Tokyo is the dining out capital of the world in terms of the quality of its food.
12. Twenty years ago, you opened Elio Locanda Italiana in Tokyo’s Kojimachi district. Any memories that stand out above the rest over that time? I have a lot of good memories but the one thing that touched me most was an elderly Japanese customer that used to come two days a week to my restaurant. The last words he said on his deathbed to his wife were, “Thank you, Elio.” That is the strongest and most touching memory I have.
13. Who has been your most interesting guest? Being involved in the restaurant business in magical. People in my restaurant can relax and be themselves without any social barriers. They talk to me like a relative. So I can say that all of them are interesting. Since you ask, however, Mr. Suzuki, a descendant of an old Japanese samurai family, is the only guest I allow to eat with chopsticks. I really respect and love him.
14. How important is the service offered by restaurants in Japan? Service is typically great in Japan. In our restaurant, however, service helps us to create a certain level of trust with our customers. We take the responsibility to order for repeat customers and, consequently, we offer them the best of the day. It’s a sign of a deep familial relationship.
15. If you could share an Italian dinner with anyone in history, who would you choose? (Retired professional wrestler) Antonio Inoki. He was one of the main reasons I came to Japan. I have always admired him since first seeing him as a child. He was also one of the first to bring Japan and its culture to the rest of the world. He’s a true Japanese hero.
16. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? A couple wanted to throw an expensive birthday party for someone named Alex. We prepared plates of Kobe beef and a huge cake with “Happy Birthday Alex” written on it. The couple and six of the restaurant staff then started singing “Happy Birthday” to Alex, who turned out to be a dog.
17. If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you be? One of my culinary secrets is not to use any chemicals in my cooking and my hobby is to cook as the Roman emperor used to, making a sauce with cappers, colatura, anchovies, vinegar and olive oil. This the best salad dressing.
18. Who would win a fight between a lion and a tiger? The tiger, because I love its colors.
19. What do you want to be when you grow up? I would like to retire to Hokkaido and open an agritourism business in which I can produce vegetables and salami, and my guests can enjoy all the organic food I can cook. I’d treat them as if they were my own family.
20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Pursue your dream. Believe in it, with all your pride.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5