Food & Drink

Asia's top pastry chef Kazutoshi Narita on what inspires his creations

by Robbie Swinnerton

Special To The Japan Times

Over the past three decades, master patissier Kazutoshi Narita has worked in half a dozen countries alongside some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs.

He is executive pastry chef at one of Tokyo’s finest French restaurants, and also runs his own dessert counter in the heart of the Ginza district. Yet somehow he still remains better known abroad than he does in his homeland.

That might very well change. Last month, the 49-year-old Narita was picked as Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2017, and received his accolade at the annual Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony in Bangkok. Following his return to Tokyo, he spoke with The Japan Times about his career and the philosophy underpinning his work.

How did it feel to receive your award?

I felt proud to be standing there in front of all the chefs and other people. It made me very happy.

You may be more famous around Asia than in Japan.

In the past, Japanese chefs dreamed of winning three Michelin stars, and they used to go abroad to work under famous chefs, and then bring back the skills and recipes they’d learned. These days there is a young generation of Japanese chefs who also want to become 3-star chefs. But they want to prove their skills to the people in France, not in Japan. That’s the sort of chef I am, too.

When did you become a patissier?

As soon as I graduated from high school (in Aomori) at age 18, I joined a small cake shop. My father made wagashi (traditional Japanese confections). But I felt that Western-style sweets were the way I wanted to go.

You have worked with some major chefs, including Tateru Yoshino, in both Paris and Tokyo; French super-chef Joel Robuchon, around the world; and Pierre Hermé, the modern master of macarons. Which of them has had the biggest impact on you?

Without a doubt, Pierre Herme has been a huge influence. In many ways he is the most classical of them all, but he’s a different generation to the others. He has a different approach to calories (reducing the sweetness) that I relate to best. But in terms of my own path, I only started to develop my own style after starting to work with Robuchon and I found a middle ground between their two styles of cuisine.

Four years ago you returned to Japan to work at Esquisse. And since last year you’ve had your own dedicated dessert restaurant, Esquisse Cinq. How do you balance the two aspects of your job?

Esquisse is my venue for creativity. Esquisse Cinq is where is I serve the desserts that I’ve developed in the past. Many of them date back to my time with Robuchon.

What is your most popular dish at Esquisse Cinq?

Definitely my Sugar Ball (large sugar globes with a creamy fruit filling). It’s on the menu year-round, although the filling changes with the season. That is absolutely my signature dessert.

If you could sum up your desserts in one word, what would it be?

In Japanese, we have a word, “yugen,” which translates as “elegant simplicity” or “hidden beauty.” It’s a concept that comes from karesansui, the traditional art of Japanese landscape gardens. Everything on the plate has to be in precisely the right place — the position of each element, the juxtaposition of colors, of flavors. There are many elements that are vital but hidden from view. My aim is to express that on the surface of a single plate.

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