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TOP-CHEF-INTERVIEWS
“Sharing Japanese food culture to the world.” The series of interviews feature the vision of Pocket Concierge. We will interview the chefs of the leading restaurants in Japan and introduce their thoughts on the restaurant and their way of thinking as a “top” chef.

Volume 2

“Sushi Masuda” Mr.  Rei Masuda

At the prestigious sushi restaurant well known worldwide, “Sukiyabashi Jiro”, Mr. Masuda has been trained for 9 years. In 2015, he opened his own restaurant “Sushi Masuda” in Omotesando, Tokyo. The restaurant consists of six seats at the counter and one room for six people. It should be fully booked almost every day, with “three part system” starting from 5pm, 7pm and 9pm. It has been awarded Michelin 2 stars and international guests account for even 60 to 70% of its whole customers. In October 2016, “Sushi Wakon” , his second restaurant was also open in Kyoto. They are focused not only on their own restaurants but also on training their chef disciples. This time, the owner Mr. Masuda talked about what he learned during his “training period” and his vision in the future etc.

Pick up topics
1. A training period when he learned various lessons from the real lifestyle of the sushi restaurant masters
2. Realize an environment where chef disciples can open their restaurants in Kyoto
3. Break through current common practices. Try new Shari (rice) from scratch

Sushi-masuda-chefs-front-photo

A training period when he learned various lessons from the real lifestyle of the sushi restaurant masters


— I heard that you worked at a sushi restaurant since you were young, but what made you decide to become a sushi chef?

When I was a high school student, I casually joined the sushi store called “Tenzushi” as a part-time worker in Kokura city, Fukuoka. At that time the owner of Tenzushi looked really cool, and one day I started to think that I wanted to be like the owner.

— In Tenzushi, did you work once as a part-time worker and afterwhile work as an employee?

I worked as a part-time worker for about 3 years in Tenzushi. At that time I thought I would like to study not only sushi but also cooking Japanese cuisine. So, I went to Kitakyushu Academy For Cooks for a year at the part time job period and studied the basics of cooking. After that, I worked as an employee for about 4 years as a Japanese restaurant named “Mansou” in Kokura. After that, I worked at a fish store for about a year. However, while doing various jobs, I thought that my dream would always be “to become a sushi chef”. At first, if I could brush up my Japanese cuisine cooking techniques, and then obtain sushi cooking skills, I thought I would be “more than perfect”. That’s what I thought then.

— After that, did you come to Tokyo?

Yes. In fact I was going to study at a sushi restaurant “Morita” in Kokura. Mr. Morita, the chef, opened the restaurant after training for roughly 30 years in Tenzushi, and was a lecturer at the cooking school to which I went. When I asked Mr. Morita to accept me as a trainee, he advised me “You should go to Tokyo to study authentic Edo-style sushi”.


— Was your training place in Tokyo introduced by Mr. Morita?

No. After I went to Tokyo I visited 30 to 40 sushi restaurants in Tokyo to decide where I would work. At the time I was 24 years old and did not have much money, but it was a kind of self-investment.


— And, it was “Sukiyabashi Jiro” you chose as a training place.

That’s right. I felt sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro was the most delicious. Jiro was not as famous as it is now at that time. I myself did not know much about the restaurant. When I thought I wished to work there, I was told that there were enough people so I could not join immediately, but after about three months I got a response from the store and started my work.


— Speaking of Sukiyabashi Jiro, I often heard the story that the period of study is quite long until becoming a professional, but how was that actually?

It was only a dish-washing and cleaning in the beginning. I think it depends when to start a cooking. In my case, I had the experience of being in a Japanese restaurant and a fish store, so I was able to help with preparation in about a year. It was not easy to get my cooked dishes out to customers at the restaurant soon, but it was an environment where you could do the practice of cooking from the beginning. I bought ingredients by myself, handling fish at my break, making sushi and having my seniors eat it getting their advices like “this is bad. this should have been better if you would

do this”. If I could get their “acceptance” I could help with the preparation of the sushi in the restaurant.


— I see. When a documentary film “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” became a hot topic, in the movie it had been said that it would take ten years until one can bake the Japanese omelette “Tamagoyaki”. I thought it would take more years.

Actually I was in the movie for a few minutes but you are right. It is certainly difficult to make Tamagoyaki without practicing hundred times. It took me five to six years before I could do it alone. As for the reason why it takes so long, the recipe for Tamagoyaki was not decided except for the amount of sugar. For example as to yams to be used for Tamagoyaki, the stickiness and taste are different between the upper end and the lower end. So the Tamagoyaki which was perfect when made from the yam at the upper would not be perfect using the yam at the bottom. It would not be perfect even with the same amount. When using  the yam, if you don’t change the amount of seasoning delicately it would not be perfect too. Especially flavor and harmony of the yam and shrimp Surimi was very difficult to make Tamagoyaki. Also, as for the baking time, one day it was 40 minutes but next day it could be even 1 hour, so it takes time with hundred trials to master it. By the way, the most difficult thing was to bake seaweed “Nori”.


— Nori? In the movie, scenes baking seaweed with charcoal was quite impressive actually.

I agree. It seems everyone is able to do so, but it’s pretty difficult. Nori should be baked from all sides with charcoal fire. If you actually try it there should be unevenness of baking in the middle or the edge side can be even burned. It would take a considerable number of years to learn it as if it were baked by the machine.


— What do you think is the most important among what you learned from the master chef “Jiro Ono”?

It is a professionalism, anyway whether on work or a way of life. Honestly, I think that anyone can cook sushi if trained as long as a year or so. However, Jiro always thinks about how to make customers eat his sushi better and how his sushi can become more delicious. Even now when he turned 91 (at this interview in November 2016), I think his attitude is really amazing. It leads to the current reputation of Sukiyabashi Jiro. There are various kinds of chefs in the world, and I think some people are doing for money, but Jiro has no intention of making money. He just likes to work. He just wants to see the customers’ happy face. In shot he is an old-fashioned “artisan”. I really wish to become an artisan like Jiro.

Right side cut of Masuda chef in Sushi counter

TBD

Realize an environment where chef disciples can open their restaurants in Kyoto


— After 9 years’ training at Sukiyabashi Jiro, what made you decide to open your own restaurant?

I was thinking of opening my restaurant at the age of 35. When I spent eight years or so for my training at Sukiyabashi Jiro , the feeling of opening my own restaurant grew. A year before my actual leave I reported to Jiro and told him I would train my young staffs as much as possible in this one year so that I could leave the restaurant one year later.


— Did you have a plan as to what kind of restaurant you would like to produce when you become independent?

For example, regarding its interior decoration, I feel like creating a restaurant, not just like “typical” sushi restaurant but also incorporating the good part of Sukiyabashi Jiro well. Also, as a long-term perspective, we aim to create an environment where our staff can open their own restaurants from here “Sushi Masuda”. I would be so happy if such an environment comes true.


— Actually, you also opened a second restaurant in Kyoto, right?

Yes, it is “Sushi Wakon”. This place is for the sous-chef of Sushi Masuda. The restaurant is in “Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto”. The chance to open the store came when the biggest shareholder of the hotel came to eat at Sushi Masuda. Originally the space was supposed to be a meeting place, but because it could be vacant the hotel decided to produce a restaurant. “Sushi Wakon” has a wide kitchen and this is more like a chef training laboratory. I visited there every Sunday, but I do not cook for myself, rather I put my energies on communicating with employees and hearing what they would like us to do as a company.


quote of the Chef Masuda's vision

Break through current common practices. Try new Shari (rice) from scratch


— Is there anything you are particularly conscious of for the taste of sushi?

Basically the taste is based on what I learned in Sukiyabashi Jiro. For example, our restaurant welcomes diners 3 times at night, but we cook Shari (rice part of sushi) every one rotation in order to control the temperature of Shari. In addition, “Hikarimono” (shiny fishes) should not be cooled in the refrigerator but should be cooled in the freezer very quickly and then we provide them to our customers. We proudly have 4 categories of temperature (warm, room temperature, cold, colder) to create taste differences.


— Is Shari still the special one you are focused on?

Yes. We purchase rice to be used for Shari from the same rice store as “Sukiyabashi Jiro” but we are blending carefully the selected rice while sticking to everything including how to cook, temperature, vinegar, and temperature control after making Shari. Especially, I have been doing researches of Shari by taking a whole week off recently (at this interview in November 2016). I will take all the things off that I have learned as a common sense, and change everything such as how to cook, vinegar, etc by doubting various common things. By doing this, I would be happy and our staff will also learn very much. You can count on it. Please don’t miss our new “Shari”.


— Thank you. Please tell us your future plan.

Regarding future restaurant expansions, there are many requests for opening stores from various places, but I do not intend to open a restaurant so rapidly. I myself do not feel like opening a restaurant for money. However, for example, I am thinking to create an environment where second, third, fourth chef of “Sushi Wakon” can open their restaurants. Also, in the sense of human resource development, I believe even if you practice only for one year with me I would like you to notice something in the words I taught. I wish to give them advices that will be positive for the rest of their life. So, I would like to engage more and more people in the future.

Main counter of Sushi Masuda

<A greeting from the chef to Pocket Concierge’s customers>
As in the interview, since 7th November 2016, I started to cook sushi using a “brand new” Shari. Please enjoy our newly-created Shari which I believe is more delicious than ever. Also, since 2017 we will change the composition and price of the course menu. We would like to thank you again for your continued support on new “Sushi Masuda”.

【Interviewer / Editor】 Naohisa Shiraishi
【Photo (person, location)】 Pocket Concierge Editorial Department
【Other photos provided by】 Sushi Masuda

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[ Access to “Sushi Masuda” ]

2 minutes on foot from the Tokyo Metro “Omotesando” station. After going up the stairs at Omotesando station B1 exit and straight ahead along Aoyama street, enter the Antique street about 10 m.

way to Sushi masuda 1Go straight ahead on the left side of the road and turn left at the first corner.
way to Sushi Masuda 2The first basement floor which descended by the elevator of the building on the right.
Restaurant Data
Restaurant name: Sushi Masuda
Address: B1 floor of BC Minami Aoyama PROPERTY 5-8-11 Minami Aoyama Minato-ku, Tokyo
Open hours: Lunch 11:30~ (L.O. 14:00)
Dinner 17:00~(L.O. 23:00)
Closed: Sunday (Public holidays)
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