Olympic chef readies French-Toyama blend


A chef from the city of Toyama who will represent Japan at the 23rd Culinary Olympics in Germany this October is raring to show off his French culinary skills on the world stage.

Tsutomu Momoi, 47, will be the first chef from Toyama Prefecture in 16 years to participate in Japan’s national team at the competition, widely regarded as the most prestigious culinary event in the West.

“I want to create dishes that the whole world will want to devour,” Momoi said.

The quadrennial competition draws more than 1,500 professional chefs from about 50 countries to compete in group and individual categories.

Momoi will battle it out in the individual hors d’oeuvre section, and intends to showcase Toyama’s local produce to the whole world.

White shrimp known as the “jewels of Toyama Bay” and locally harvested rice are among the ingredients he plans to cook with.

He is also considering using “flexible” dining ware made from tin by the local Nousaku Corp. foundry, which has drawn attention both at home and overseas in recent years.

Momoi, a Toyama native, started training as a chef after he graduated from junior high school and honed his skills at local restaurants.

He became intrigued by French cuisine around age 20, and as he steadily developed his expertise he embarked on a quest to promote its dishes in Japan, where they have been traditionally viewed as a little too high class.

A restaurant that later employed Momoi gave him a variety of extraculinary responsibilities, including creating menus and managing the joint.

At his current establishment, the Toyama Jiyukan hotel in the city of Toyama, Momoi offers French dishes in bite-size morsels that can be eaten with chopsticks in an effort to draw a larger domestic clientele.

At the competition, chefs are also evaluated on the visual appeal of their creations. Momoi said he feels slightly anxious about this, since he usually puts the emphasis on taste.

He is currently striving to create new dishes that both taste and look good, but appears to be enjoying the pressure of preparing for the big stage.

“There is no end in cooking,” he defiantly declared.

Momoi is training for the competition after business hours, regularly cooking late into the night at the hotel and studying books on French cuisine to fine-tune his dishes.

“I became a chef because I didn’t like studying — I never imagined I would be studying this much,” Momoi said with a wry smile.

Japan’s team will also include chefs from Ishikawa, Fukui, Gifu, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and Okinawa prefectures.