|“Sharing Japanese food culture to the world.” The series of interviews feature the vision of Pocket Concierge. We will interview chefs of the leading restaurants in Japan and introduce their thoughts on the restaurant and their way of thinking as a “top” chef.|
“Quintessence” Mr. Shuzo Kishida
In this first installment, we are presenting an interview with Mr. Shuzo Kishida, who is the owner-chef of French restaurant “Quintessence” in Shinagawa, Tokyo. Since 2008 Michelin Guide Tokyo was issued, Quintessence has been awarded three stars for 10 consecutive years and was ranked 20th in the 2016 “Asia’s Best 50 Restaurants”. Chef Mr. Kishida has received a huge attention not only from Japan but also from all over the world. And in May 2016, “Quintessence” celebrated its 10th anniversary. We will interview him about the restaurant and Mr. Kishida’s cuisine philosophy.
After working in France, he returned to Japan to create his own cuisine
— This year, “Quintessence“ celebrated its 10th anniversary, but did you have any thoughts to open your own restaurant?
I had a dream when I was a child that I wanted to open a restaurant myself, it is everyone’s dream if you love cooking. And in my case, since I was training in France, the image of “having my own restaurant“ was always in my mind, so I was looking for an investor who could help me and accomplish this dream. Luckily, I met the President of Granada Co., Ltd, President Shimoyama. And thanks to him, in 2006 at Shirokanetakanawa, Tokyo, “Quintessence” was able to open. To President Shimoyama, I can not express how thankful I am.
— Why did you choose to open a restaurant in Japan after you were trained in France?
If I could open a restaurant I would like to open in Japan, and only in Japan. Because I am Japanese and when I was in France, I realized that I would never be able to be a French. That’s why I wanted to cherish my roots. In Japan, there are many ingredients and culture that can only be found in Japan, so I strongly believed that if I could use the unique ideas of the Japanese and the techniques I learned in France, I could produce my own dish that I had never had before.
— What dish defines you?
What I learned in France was the base, but these three concepts, ”Produit (Material)” “Cuisson (Heating)” “Assaisonner (Seasoning)”, are the core. I learned that these three are the most important parts of the French cooking. And, as a concept of “Quintessence”, we continue implementing these three concepts for the past 10 years.
His culinary philosophy learned from his teacher has led to the preference of “Omakase”
— Please tell us more about the time when you were in France.
I was trained under Mr. Pascal Barbot, the owner chef at the three star restaurant “Astrance” in Paris, when I met Mr. Barbot, it was very shocking.Mr. Barbot’s concepts had overthrown what I had believe in before. Unlike other restaurants where it was important to faithfully reproduce the chef’s dish, “Astrance”, even though still reproducing the same dish, the way of cooking was slightly different every time. Instead of chefs, every chef who touched the ingredients every day was asked to constantly “adjust” according to the chef’s decision., in order to consider the state of the ingredients that changes every day.
— Not only is the chef responsible for the operation of the restaurants, all the staff have to focus on their own tasks, right?
That’s right. For example, even with the same sea bream, the sea bream that arrived yesterday and today are not exactly the same, so it is necessary to adjust by changing the amount of salt or the amount of time to heat. That is the judgment made by the cook. Mr. Barbot did not instruct it, it depended on the chef’s judgment. In order to be able to “adjust”, I was continuously trained.
— Was that trained experience used in your current dishes?
Yes. Thanks to the hardship I had when I was training in Paris, after I returned home and switched from French ingredients to Japanese ingredients, I was able to “adjust” the Japanese ingredients to sublimate their parts in the French cuisine, even though in Japan I had to deal with different climate and ingredients. If you understand the concept of the ingredient itself and the bases of cooking, that is, the “essence”, not the recipes, I think that you can utilize the theory to make your own delicious dishes. Thanks to Mr. Barbot’s training of seeking “essence”, there are many chefs from “Astrance” that achieved great accomplishment.
— Many of the chefs from ‘Quintessence’ have been successful and were awarded Michelin stars.
I am happy for that. I believe that if you understand and master the importance of identifying the “essence”, you can become a successful chef. The name “Quintessence = essence” has already been decided since the beginning of the my training in Paris, and I have been continuing with this belief for ten years now. The philosophy of seeking “essence” that was learned from Mr. Barbot is still the root of Quintessence.
Quintessence show plate | Pocket Concierge
— The course of “Quintessence” is “Omakase”, right?
The style of “complete Omakase” which is the feature of “Quintessence” has not changed for the past ten years. That is to maintain the quality of cooking. It is the “complete Omakase” style that pursues “essence”. As a professional chef who knows what is the most delicious ingredients of the day, it is not possible to make the dish after the customer orders, but having the feeling that I want this person to enjoy this dish that is made from this ingredient all the way from the morning. Think about it, if you spend time and make the dishes according to the visiting time of each person, you can create good dish. That is no doubt. I can promise that. As with the a la carte, even if the ingredient is not the best on the day, you still have to make it because you have that on the menu. It is impossible to offer really delicious dishes in that way. Don’t you think it is nonsense? That’s why “Quintessence” serves “complete Omakase”. Otherwise, you can not deliver delicious items.
Message from Quintessence | Pocket Concierge
— In your “Omakase” , the special dish “Goat milk Bavarois” is famous, how did you come up with this dish?
When I was in France, I held home party every month, where all of my chef friends gather and bring their original dishes. Originally, “Salt and olive oil” was the theme. Salt and olive oil at the time in France was very tasty, and I was surprised that they have became a catalyst. Particularly with salt, because it is used for all dishes, if the salt is not tasty, the level of dish gradually goes down. Conversely, if the salt is delicious, the level of the dish will gradually rise. However, the seasoning can not be the main character. Then, what would happen if you think about a dish that is full of salt’s freshness … I thought about reversing the master-slave relationship between ingredients and seasonings and tried to make dishes with seasonings as the main character.
“Goat milk Bavarois”Quintessence | Pocket Concierge
The ingredients that are combined are very simple. The Bavarois is made from goat’s milk from Kyoto, lily roots and macadamia nuts were sliced and mixed, the tastes are very gentle. So, the texture of salt and the fragrance of olive oil stands out perfectly. In this dish, “I can confidently tell people that this is the seasoning that I used! It is the best”, is the backbone. I made it so that everyone can enjoy and understands the concept easily.
— “Meringue ice cream” is also a signature, right?
Yes. I do not have much memory of eating meringue in Japan, but it is piled up in the bakeries in France. The pillow-like sized meringue sweets are always piled up in the bakeries. This is almost the same for any bakery in France. In the beginning, I wonder why is it like that, but I guess it’s just because it is meringue. Since half of meringue is sugar, it is sweet, but besides that it is egg white. It is way too sweet and can be disgusting, it is not meant to be consumed. But, is meringue really bad? And then I thought at that time, you should not only reproduce delicious dishes, but also should improve not delicious dishes. So, I thought that if I could come up with the improvement point and I can make it more delicious.
“Meringue ice cream”
So, I tried very hard to come up with the reasons why Meringue is not delicious. First of all, it is too sweet. Then, it makes my mouth dried. Also, the amount of meringue in France is way too much. I thought there was a way to improve it.
First, after making the meringue, I crushed it into pieces and made it into powder. And then I melt it into the dough of ice cream, that substituted the sugar. If you consider meringue as granulated sugar, you will be able to use it as a seasoning. I think baked meringue’s fragrance is delicious that cannot be duplicate. Also, you can control the sweetness by the amount of meringue. And the powdery texture that made your mouth dry can be solved by the moistness in the base of ice cream, so it will have a smooth texture. By completely clearing the improvement points, a whole new dessert has been created. And I’ve been making it since the restaurant opened till now.
Only when all the conditions are satisfied, delicious dishes are completed
— At the beginning of the opening, Michelin was not yet in Japan, but were you conscious about it?
When I returned to Tokyo from France, Michelin was not in Japan yet. However, one of the reasons for coming back to Japan was the desire to create a restaurant in Japan that can transmit to the world like Michelin does, if Japan had Michelin. Rather than making a copy of other three-star French restaurant, it is the first time for a three-star to be create with originality, I want customers to think that ”I have to come to Japan to eat this dish”, I think that it defines quality.
— Please states the point why the dishes that can only be enjoy here are appealing to the world.
I think that all the dishes have originality, but I want to convey the splendidness of Japan and Tokyo. I would like customers to eat something unique of Tokyo when they visit Tokyo. There are special products in each town in France and there is special dish using the indigenous ingredients, but in Tokyo there are no special products. However, since the world’s best infrastructure exists in Tokyo, it is possible to enjoy different local products from the entire county.
— Is infrastructure Tokyo’s strength in the world?
For example, we currently purchase Shikoku’s fish each morning, and the fishes caught in Shikoku early in the morning arrive at “Quintessence” after about 6 hours. The food that can be delivered in just six hours is exactly the same food ingredients for the restaurant in Shikoku and Tokushima that offers for lunch, the same as the fishes “Quintessence” provides for lunch. In other words, it is a strength that Tokyo can collect all the wonderful ingredients throughout Japan and use them, making Japan more localized. If you have an airport anywhere in the country, regional foods can also be said to be the local ingredients in Tokyo.
— In fact, sometimes do you purchase directly from the production area?
Of course, we sometimes go to the production area and visit the farmers. Actually, recently, opportunities to get in touch with the producers and to go directly to buy the ingredients have increased. Thankfully not only from Japan but also from overseas, we can get in touch with the world via Facebook. Because we get the ingredients directly from the producer, not through the brokers, so the ingredients are very fresh and not expensive. In today’s era, if IT is used, restaurants and farmers all over the world can trade directly and new business will be possible.
— Independently, it was a big turning point in 2013 that Quintessence moved to Gotenyama, what was the reason for it?
The purpose of relocation was “to raise the quality of cooking and make more delicious dishes”. The method was independence and relocation. I want to cook every day and the feeling that I wanted to do more on my own cooking became stronger and new cooking utensils and equipments became necessary, but in order to make my own ideal restaurant, I had to become an independent owner chef. Although it is not only as a restaurant, to have a kitchen that is almost the same size as the dining room is for sure a benefit to the owner chef.
— Why did you have the courage to choose this area where there are only few restaurants around and the access is not good?
Although it was certain that the main area for restaurants are near Minato-ku or Chuo-ku, and it is not easy to restart at Shinagawa, which is not close to either area. Although it is an area that is not in the “battlefield” , it is only about 10 minutes by foot from the station. So it’s a short distance from where you can come if you extend a little on foot. “If I could not make you come here, my dishes are not special.” I decided to not make excuses. And I have the feeling that “my life as a chef will end here”.
— Please also tell me more about the chic interior design.
It is same as my cooking concept, it is simple and fits the concept of “essence”. Similar to my cooking concept, excessive decoration is unnecessary when it comes to “essence”. There are 30-seats in the dining area and 2 private rooms with little decorations. There are no flowers, no paintings and no music in speaker. Moreover, every material matches with each other and makes it consistent with the concept of the dish.
— Could you please tell me more about your future prospects for keeping the concept of “essence” for everything?
In the past decade, I have been seeking the “essence” and have been cooking, and that will not change in the future. It will not be affected by popular ingredients and recipes, nor will it change my direction. I am a person who sent a fashion, not receiving it. It will not be affected by people. So, there will be no change in the future.
— You also have the courage to stay the same, right?
Yes. And in the future, I do not want to compromise with good food. Furthermore, customer’s cooperation is also necessary for it. Because it is impossible to provide a really delicious dish perfectly, so you need to have the chef’s skills, a well-equipped kitchen and a cozy dining room, and to achieve that, you need to get the understanding and cooperation from each customer.
— Finally, is there anything you want to tell to all the visitors from all over the world?
The desire of the chef who wants to serve delicious food and the feeling of the customer who wants to eat delicious food are in the same direction. So, in order to fulfill this purpose, please don’t be late to your reservation time, inform us of all dislike ingredients in advance and please do not leave your seat during the meal. I want to make sure that all the customers can enjoy delicious food, so I hope all the customers can follow the minimum manner. It is an important issue for restaurants as we continue to value the importance of our customers.
<A greeting from the chef>
“Quintessence” celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2016, and Michelin Guide Tokyo 2017 has awarded us our 10th three stars. I am very happy. Everyday I make mistakes, fix my mistakes and learn, and I am thankful to all the staff, producers, traders and customers for the support. I will keep up with my work and I will not change my concept I believe in, thank you.
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[Interviewer] Naohisa Shiraishi
[Writer] Asako Hamamoto
[ Access to “Quintessence” ]
10-minute walk from Shinagawa station, JR Yamanote Line
10-minute walk from Osaki station, JR Yamanote Line
10-minute walk from Gotanda station, JR Yamanote Line
※You can use free shuttle bus to Garden-City from Shinagawa station & Gotanda station.
Garden-City Shinagawa, Appearance of Gotenyama.
Don’t enter a inside of building and continue to the left side along to the building
Entrance of Quintessence.
Walking in from out of the building
|Adress：||1st floor of Garden City Shinagawa Gotenyama, 6-7-29 Kitashinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo|
|Closed：||6days in a month (usually Sunday)|
Make a reservation of Quintessence