Bunny Awchat, 45, attended culinary school in Paris and worked at several distinguished restaurants in Europe before moving to Japan over two decades ago. He is the owner-chef at Indigo Asian Bistro by Bunny’s in Osaka, which he opened in 2018

1. Where did you grow up? I’m Dutch and Indian. I lived in India until the age of 10 and moved to Switzerland to go to boarding school.

2. When did you decide to become a chef? I started cooking at 17. I’ve always loved food but living at a boarding school and eating cardboard bread and food with no flavor made me more passionate about cooking.

3. Where did you train? I went to Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris. I worked at two Michelin-starred restaurants in France. Although it gave me a strong base, I felt their styles were too myopic for my taste. It was fanaticism on a plate.

4. Did you work anywhere else in Europe? I worked at Montreux Palace and Brasserie Bavaria in Switzerland, and Hotel Perla in Pamplona, Spain. My best experience was working in Italy at a rural pizzeria in Pozzuoli in Naples. I learned hunting, butchering, foraging and making charcuterie. It taught me a valuable lesson about hospitality and working with people from all walks of life.

5. Why did you decide to move to Japan? I was very interested in Japanese cuisine so I packed my bags and cooking knives and arrived in Osaka on a working holiday in 1999. I would have chosen Tokyo, but my girlfriend at the time was from Osaka and she thought the food in Osaka was better than in Tokyo.

6. Did you have any trouble finding work? I couldn’t get hired for the first few months and my money started to run out. I was at the point of giving up when I met a hilarious English-speaking surfer at an izakaya (pub). When I told him about my situation, he insisted that I work at his standing bar in Juso. I became the foreign maneki neko (beckoning cat) to attract more clients, which really improved my Japanese.

7. Was it difficult to learn Japanese? I speak six languages and learning Japanese was definitely the hardest. But after almost 25 years in Japan I’ve started to dream in Japanese!

8. What was the biggest culture shock you experienced in Japan? Bathing naked with other people.

9. When did you decide to open your own restaurant in Japan? It was after working at the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo for five years. I returned to Osaka and opened my first restaurant, a Spanish tapas bar called Poron Poron. I ran it for nine years but decided to move on after the tapas boom ran its course.

10. What is the difference from running a restaurant in Europe? In Europe, if you offer outstanding food and have a good location then people will flock to your restaurant, but you will spend half your life getting the proper licenses. In Japan, it’s super easy to get a license to open a restaurant, but it takes longer for the community to welcome and accept you.

Bunny Ranga Khus has returned to his roots in his cooking, which is now mostly Asian barbecue with Indian, Chinese, Korean and Filipino fusion dishes | TSUYOSHI TAGAWA
Bunny Awchat has returned to his roots in his cooking, which is now mostly Asian barbecue with Indian, Chinese, Korean and Filipino fusion dishes | TSUYOSHI TAGAWA

11. How has Osaka’s food culture influenced you? The ingredients and simplicity got me off the high horse of fine dining and down to warm, hearty food — value for money. My second restaurant failed after two years because I didn’t anticipate the cost-sensitivity of my customers. Lesson learned? Know your immediate surroundings and don’t try to make food people don’t understand.

12. What is the concept of your current restaurant, Indigo Asian Bistro by Bunny’s? I believe food and cuisine should have no borders. I derive my food from French, Italian and Spanish cuisine, but I have taken a big leap by leaving my comfort zone and returning to my Asian roots. So it’s mostly Asian barbecue with Indian, Chinese, Korean and Filipino fusion dishes.

13. What kind of research do you do when preparing a new dish from another culture? Well, I have gone through 200-odd videos on YouTube and Netflix. I have watched some multiple times just to pick up tips for things they don’t mention. After 26 years in the kitchen, I have an approximate idea of what the end product will be like.

14. Can you give an example of a new dish you prepared recently using this technique? Birria tacos. No one was making birria in Osaka so I did extensive research. I also got in touch with ex-classmates from school who are Mexican. I made them five times before serving them.

15. Do customers ever request dishes they can’t find in Japan? Call me in advance and I can fix you almost anything that you miss from home. In the past I’ve made numerous requests including pupusa, a thick griddle cake that is the national dish of El Salvador; and lechon kawali, a crispy, deep-fried pork from the Philippines. I’ve also developed a tedious brining process to create New York delicatessen-style pastrami — the main difference is that my pastrami is smoked and not steamed.

16. Are there any chefs whom you admire? Brazilian chef Alex Atala and Filipino American chef Tom Cunanan, formerly of Bad Saint in New York City.

17. What do you like to do on your days off? I often do collaborations and drop-ins at restaurants in Osaka. I just like the camaraderie with other chefs, and I love meeting and talking to people.

18. Do you foresee changes in the restaurant business due to the pandemic? Ghost kitchens and satellite kitchens are the future. I used to be against a “one menu” restaurant, but the pandemic has upended the entire industry.

19. Do you have a New Year’s resolution? In the future, I’d like to open a farm-to-table weekend restaurant.

20. What has been your best day in Japan? The day my daughter was born.

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