|“Sharing Japanese food culture to the world.” The series of interviews feature the vision of Pocket Concierge. We 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.|
“Higashi-Azabu Amamoto” Mr. Masamichi Amamoto
In June 2016, Mr. Masamichi Amamoto opened his own sushi restaurant “Higashi-Azabu Amamoto” in Higashi-Azabu, Tokyo. With great expectation from gastronomes, this sushi restaurant had gotten no vacancy for reservation even before opening. In the winter of 2016, this restaurant was awarded 2 stars in the Michelin Guide 2017 shortly half year after the opening. The owner Mr. Masamichi Amamoto became a “big” rookie star in the sushi industry. This time, Mr. Amamoto talked about his training experience as an assistant of the legendary sushi master Mr. Mitsuyasu Nagano (so-called “Oyaji-san” which stands for an “elderly master” in Japanese) who had devoted his life to his famous sushi restaurant “Umi”, the spirit Mr. Amamoto gained from his training experience in Umi and his thoughts about sushi.
Encounter with the legendary sushi chef “Oyaji-san” of Umi and the experience which changed Mr. Amamoto’s life as a Sushi craftsman.
— First, could you please tell me about the trigger that made you decide to become a sushi craftsman?
Actually, at the beginning, I joined the dining industry not just because I wanted to become a sushi craftsman. My father used to run a stall in Nakasu, Fukuoka city, which had given me preliminary thoughts about becoming a chef. So my father introduced me to train myself in “Sushi Kappo Kogyoku” located in Haruyoshi, Fukuoka on the opposite side on the street of my father’s stall , and this prompted me to become a sushi chef later.
— How did you get into Tokyo after learning in Fukuoka?
I worked in “Kogyoku” for 3 years, but I only did some simple jobs. I got anxious because my young brother entered the restaurant 2 years earlier than me. In addition to that, he had already started to make sushi, while I was still doing jobs like washing up cooking tools. I was not even allowed to cook anything. It is very frustrating to me. At that time I kept thinking like “my younger brother already began to make sushi while I am not doing anything.” So I decided to leave “Kogyoku” and went to a Japanese cuisine restaurant instead. At first I tried to find one in Fukuoka, but by chance I began my training in Tokyo for two years in “Totoya Uoshin” located in Akasaka, Tokyo.
— Why did you decide to return to sushi after you began studying the Japanese cuisine?
At that time, Mr.Sakai, my senior in “Kogyoku” running “Sushi Sakai” now in Fukuoka, started practicing in “Umi” located in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo and by that time “Umi” was widely-known even in Fukuoka as a fantastic sushi restaurant. Mr. Sakai invited me to be a disciple in “Umi”. That’s when I started a new sushi learning experience in “Umi”.
— What was the charm of “Umi” that made you go back to the sushi world?
It’s “Oyaji-san” (meaning an elderly master in Japanese. Mr. Mitsuyasu Nagano) of “Umi”. At first I refused the invitation to work in “Umi”, but Mr. Sakai said “How about meeting with Oyaji-san just once?” So I went to the restaurant only to meet and talk with Oyaji-san, but during the first meeting with him, I was so attracted by the chef as a man. He was a great person with all the charming characteristic that I didn’t have. Although he was a really strict person, I still wished I could be a trainee for sushi chef again in this restaurant, and this changed my life completely. In fact, maybe that was when my trainee life really started. During the training, I kept thinking this was what working without sleep means. But thanks to this experience, I can eventually reach my current status. Hence, I think the encounter with Oyaji-san had a big influence in my life.
— Could you tell me the things you learned most during your training under the Oyaji-san who changed your life?
Oyaji-san didn’t tell us much techniques about making sushi, instead he let us learn by ourselves. However, there were seldom chances that I could make sushi. So the most things I have learned from him is the way of customer service including the manner, word expression, how to treat superior people and the courage to make conversations with customers. I used to be a shy person and uncomfortable with speaking in front of others. Oyaji-san was quite strict on our word expressions and he paid every attention to the words I used. In serving customers, there were questions like “Not talking to customers will make Oyaji-san angry”, “But how to begin a conversation with them?”. If I finished the end of phrases weakly, even if I was talking with customers, he would later ask me in the back room to tell me where I did wrong. Because I wasn’t allowed to make sushi, I received this kind of guidance quite often. This is about something like the courage to talk with customers.
— How long had you been serving as the Nibante (the second chef in sushi restaurant)?
About in the second or third year, I was assigned as the Nibante, and I stayed as Nibante for 7 years after that. Standing next to Oyaji-san was like a dream coming true for a trainee like me, but I was also sure that is like a hell. I, who became Nibante earlier than expected and capable of nothing, was scolded many times every day. And there was almost no holiday. Even in days when the restaurant were closed, if Oyaji-san asked me “Do you have any plan tomorrow?”, I had to answer “Nothing! What about you?” And when he had no plan, I would need to answer “If possible, can I visit you in your home?” before he said anything to me. Oyaji-san got lonely sometimes as well. The holidays with Oyaji-san were usually about drinking, and talking about the meaning of being a man. And because he really cared about the language expression, so I really paid huge attention to this.
— The communication skill was trained in both work and private time, right?
I used to have a different personality. But even if I had a totally different character with Oyaji-san, I had to follow his. Since I began the training, I received great impact from him, which also changed my personality. Even nowadays, some spirit of “Umi” and Oyaji-san still remains inside of myself, this kind of characteristic already makes me get angry sometimes like Oyaji-san used to be. Even if I knew it was better not to be like him, I just couldn’t control. I can’t easily compromise with my disciples. The reason why I hired females is just because I would like to be nice.
The contact with fish brokers is the biggest “secret” for purchasing special fishes.
— Could you please tell us the particularity for “Higashi-Azabu Amamoto” after you inherited the spirit of Oyaji-san?
Of course I inherited many things from Oyaji-san, but I committed that “I will never imitate Oyaji-san”, “I want to use my own personality” and “I would like to reveal myself”. And I only serve things that I consider as delicious. Moreover, I never purchase things I don’t think good enough in season. That’s the reason I update my purchase menu every day.
— How do you select and buy ingredients?
It’s all about relationships with brokers. Nowadays, even if you can go to the market very early, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can get the best ingredients. Brokers gets access to everything. Recently the supply has kept decreasing. If 50 sushi craftsmen come to get at the same time, there won’t be enough supply. However, some great fishes won’t be displayed on the counter. Instead they are hidden behind. This kind of fish is really expensive, but once you try it, you won’t be able to back to other common fishes.
— Is the trusted relationship with intermediary brokers built from the trainee time?
About this question, there are quite fixed intermediaries that sushi shops will go to, but I won’t choose them. If I go to the same intermediary as others, as where I bought ingredients when I was in “Umi”, then I won’t be able to compete with others. There are about 5 intermediaries for others to choose from, but I only go to the one I trust. “If they don’t have special fishes then I won’t buy” is my faith. I buy everything but shrimp and tuna from one intermediary. Hence, I only purchase special ingredients. Even when something is in season but it’s not special, intermediary don’t suggest me buying it, I won’t buy it. I believe in their sense and choice of the intermediary brokers. In other words, I trade only with the brokers who I can trust and who can tell me about the best and special ingredients in season.
— Because the sense of Mr. Amamoto as a sushi craftsman is trusted by them, intermediary can tell you what’s special, right?
Because among the things they want to sell, really great ingredients will only be sold to those who they believe can “realize the full potential of the fish.” The fishes in counter are what they want to sell, while what they hide are what they regard as too precious to sell. This circumstance suits me as well. I only serve great sushi to those who will be pleased with really delicious food.
Your performances during serving great cuisine are quite impressive, aren’t they?
Yes, it’s true that I want customers to see something special. Something like living button shrimp, homemade karasumi (a food product made by salting mullet roe and drying it by the sunlight) and baking eel, when you show these to customers, they will feel quite enjoyable and take pictures of these things. Although from the bottom of my heart it’s uneasy to serve these precious things, at the same time I also want to give these things to those who will be pleased by watching, eating these cuisine.
Keep evolving. The fantastic Edo-style sushi from the sushi craftsman in his thirties, which one can only enjoy in Tokyo.
— What do you most want to tell customers from all over Japan and the World?
I would like tell them, of course, the atmosphere in the restaurant, but more importantly, our sincere belief of “we hope you enjoy the really delicious fishes”. Fishes from near sea in Japan are without doubt the most delicious fishes in the world, definitely! Moreover, the fish supply has kept decreasing, the good fishes are becoming less and more expensive. Furthermore, although almost all fishes are shipped to Tsukiji Market in Tokyo from all over Japan, I found that in the Central Market in my hometown Fukuoka, you can buy some unique ingredients from Kyushu, which cannot be found in Tsukiji Market. It’s achieved by a way called Sanchoku (Delivery directly from the fishing area). One day, the fishes I bought by calling the female master in Fukuoka market in the morning was delivered to Higashi-Azabu, Tokyo at 4:00 PM. I’m really grateful to this blessing environment.
— Is the taste of “Higashi-Azabu Amamoto” the flavor one can only find in Tokyo?
Yes. I’m paying attention to everything from purchasing ingredients. I try my best to buy the best ingredients, and keep them original if that’s the best way to serve them. And by judging the water and fat content, I spend time to choose the suitable way to make fishes more tasty, “to spread salt”, “to add some vinegar”, “to add some flavor with kombu” or “to pickle”. With even one bite, you can feel the flavor changing inside your mouth, isn’t this the magic of sushi? Of course there is old-fashioned “cut and grasp” kind of sushi, but nowadays Edo-style sushi keeps evolving. Especially, the amount of sushi craftsman in thirties like me has been increasing. All of us are very earnest, deeply considering the restaurant rather than going for a drink even after work. Also because we are working seriously, the saying like “It’s just sushi bubble that makes the shop popular” and “you just caught up the fashion of sushi” gets us very irritated. We really want people to enjoy the delicious cuisine.
— In addition to sushi, the tsumami cuisine is really various and fantastic in the course menu of “chef’s selection of Mr. Amamoto”.
In my restaurant, there will always be around 10 “Tsumami(appetizer)”, including not only fresh food, but also some warm food after cooking on fire. I hope customers can enjoy these foods as well. In short, I want customers to be full and satisfied when they are leaving. The restaurant also provides sake and wine which fit these Tsumami. Different from fresh food, cuisine after some process can have a stronger taste and it is definitely suitable for wine and champagne. To be honest, we are selling almost at the purchased price, so please enjoy really great Tsumami with sake and wine!
— Lastly, please tell us about the future prospect of Mr. Amamoto.
I hope our customers to be as many as possible. Actually I am hoping more customers coming to our restaurant, but I have to refuse some appointments every day. It is really hard for me. I am hiring a trainee to realize two turnovers. It’s not my will to open a restaurant that one have to wait for one year for reservation, so I will reconsider about the reservation method. I am going to work hard for more customers from all over Japan and the world to come.
<A greeting from the chef to Pocket Concierge’s customers>
(After being awarded with Michelin two stars) I am really grateful to the staff who managed to open the restaurant, to the intermediaries in Tsukiji who provide best ingredients every day, to fish shops in Hakata, to wine shops, to the customers who supported me before the opening and many others. Thanks a lot! I will keep doing my best for the customers every day. Please keep visiting “Higashi-Azabu Amamoto” from now on.
※”Higashi-Azabu Amamoto” is currently a difficult-to-book sushi restaurant, but if you register as a member of Pocket Concierge you will be able to receive update information of various restaurants.
【Photos (Chef, Location)】Kimihiro
[ Access to “Higashi-Azabu Amamoto” ]
・Toei Oedo line “Akabanebashi” station, 4 mins walk from exit Akabanebashi
・Tokyo metro Hibiya line “Kamiyacho” station, 10 mins walk from exit 1
|Restaurant name：||Higashi-Azabu Amamoto|
|Address：||102 of The Sono building, 1-7-9 Higashi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo|
|Open hours：||18: 00 ~ 24:00|