Takashi Ochiai shows me into his brightly lit and immaculately clean kitchen, where a group of apprentice chefs, all women as it happens, are preparing mochi (sticky rice cakes). As we approach, they smile and make space for him without breaking their conversation, and he seamlessly joins in with the work. There is no jolt of the-boss-is-here tension, yet you can sense the respect they have for him.

An energetic 66, Ochiai is small and wiry with a warm smile that lights up the room. He radiates a quiet pride as he talks of his awards — best artisan butter croissant in Spain in 2013 (awarded by the School of The Pastry Guild in Barcelona) followed by best pastry chef in 2014 — and he scoffs at any suggestion of retirement: "What for?" he asks, incredulous, "I still have plans."

Much of Ochiai's life takes place within one block of the L'Eixample district in Barcelona, Spain. His patisserie sits on the corner, there's a new cafeteria and training space next door, and his home is upstairs. His Catalan wife, Carme, manages the business, while Ochiai is in charge of product: Japanese sweets, which make up around 20 percent of sales, alongside French and Catalan-style pastries.