Food & Drink

A new wave of chefs redefining Tokyo

by Robbie Swinnerton

Contributing Writer

Contemporary, creative, bold, relaxed: Tokyo has a new generation of chefs who are changing the way the city eats. Gone are the days when dining out in Japan’s capital was serious and rigid, sometimes intimidating — at least at the handful of restaurants that form the subject of a new book by U.S. author and photographer Andrea Fazzari.

In “Tokyo New Wave,” Fazzari has picked out 31 chefs she feels are defining Japan’s contemporary restaurant scene. She intersperses interviews and short essays with photographs of these key protagonists, not just in their kitchens, but off-duty with their families or relaxing with friends. Here, she talks to The Japan Times about the book.

What does “Tokyo New Wave” mean to you? These are the new generation of chefs. They’re much more open, they’re traveling, they’re super into social media. They’re less mysterious. And they’re doing interesting things, interacting with many other chefs abroad. You can see it on the plate. It’s an exciting time in Tokyo.

You’ve picked 31 of them. Why that number? It was important to include a range of restaurants — formal, casual, fine dining, izakaya (taverns), with or without Michelin stars — to reflect the diversity of all that is happening in Tokyo. This is not a list of Tokyo’s 31 best chefs. It’s not a ranking of the best food. It’s anthropological in many ways. The only criterion was: if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t include it.

How did it come about? When I decided to move to Tokyo, I had no inkling of doing a book. My sister and brother-in-law lived here 18 years ago, and at that time I promised myself I would come back and live here myself someday. In 2015, that finally happened. I was drawn to Japan. There was a strong pull.

How did doors open to you? I arrived on Jan. 6, 2015. The following day I had a reservation at the restaurant Den and I met chef Zaiyu Hasegawa. I asked if I could I come back to photograph him, and he used those photos on his website. He then invited me to a collaboration dinner with his two closest friends, both chefs: Susumu Shimizu (Anis) and Hiroyasu Kawate (Florilege). I also cold-called some places I thought were interesting, such as sushi chef Hiroyuki Sato (then at Sushi Tokami; now Hakkoku).

Were they open to the idea? Sato agreed straight away. He’s as easygoing as a Californian. Fumie Takeuchi (Sushi Take; the only female chef in the book) needed a lot of convincing. One chef I really wanted was Shuzo Kishida (Quintessence). He was very difficult to get. He’s never been photographed before outside his restaurant. So I was excited to show him in a different light.

How often do you eat sushi? Not often. I feel sushi is something to savor once every six to eight months. I’m not a blogger. I don’t eat for sport or for quantity. There’s a degree of gluttony out there on Instagram that I really find distasteful. I don’t like that kind of eating.

Is your book the opposite of Instagram? I don’t take photos as I’m eating. I’m a professional photographer. Also, I find it disrespectful for the chef and the food. I’ve eaten with bloggers while they’re standing with their cameras, you can’t even talk to the person. The endless photos on Instagram of beef, uni (sea urchin) et cetera — I find that goes with that gluttonous, over-the-top, excessive “eating for sport.” I can’t stand that. It offends my senses.

Andrea Fazzari is on Instagram on @tokyo_new_wave or visit tokyonewwave.com