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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 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 8

“Florilège” Mr. Hiroyasu Kawate

French restaurant “Florilège” fascinates food lovers worldwide. Mr. Kawate’s dishes are French based, with enchanting presentation skills and hidden messages. The restaurant has been awarded Michelin 1-star, and ranked 14th in the “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants”, proving Florilege is one of the most promising restaurants today.

The chef, Mr. Kawate is challenging food losses and waste problem through his dishes. His way of contributing to the society is not limited to Japan. Not only supporting the act on food losses and waste, he is also engaged in running events for chefs in Asia. In this article, he talks about his thought on his restaurant and his roles worldwide.

Pick up topics
1. Growing up with no doubt to become a chef, destined to meet his 3 masters of life
2. A border-free restaurant that could change the future of food
3. Teaming up with chefs in Asia to leap to the world


Florilege_kawate_kitchen

Growing up with no doubt to become a chef, destined to meet his 3 masters of life

–  Tell us how you decided to become a chef.

I come from a family with many chefs and cooks. My father owned a yoshoku (Japanized forms of European dishes) restaurant, one of my uncles had a sushi restaurant, and another one had a Chinese restaurant. Growing up in such environment, it was natural to be involved in the industry. Even in my childhood, I dreamed of becoming a chef, and I was interested in nothing else.

– Did you go to a culinary school?

I didn’t go to a culinary school but i did go to a high school that had a culinary course. We had ordinary classes in the morning, and in the afternoon we had culinary classes. I didn’t feel the necessity of going to a culinary school after that, I was more eager to start working at a restaurant as soon as possible.

– Did you choose to work in a French restaurant since the beginning?

Not really. My father had a yoshoku restaurant, I was interested in Japanese cuisine, and becoming an Italian chef was another option. Back when I was in middle to high school there was a popular TV program called “Iron Chef”. I started to admire the white tall chef hats I saw on the program. When I was in high school, I started to work part-time or went to internships in French and Italian restaurants. And I felt the French cuisine was a good match for me.

– Tell us about the restaurants that you trained at.

I started at “Q.E.D. Club” in Ebisu for 3 years. Then I went to “OHARA ET CIE”, which is a restaurant in Roppongi, owned by the former grand-chef Mr. Masahiko Ohara. I was there for a year and a half. So in total I worked with Mr. Ohara for 4 and a half years.

I wanted to work in France, but I didn’t have any connection to the restaurants in that country. So I chose “Le Bourguignon” in Roppongi, which is one of the most famous and promising French restaurant also having connection to restaurants in France. I was 23 or 24 then, and my aim was simply go to France for training, but they gave me a sous chef position from the start, and I was grateful for that.

– And you went to France after “Le Bourguignon”?

Yes. After working at “Le Bourguignon”, chef Mr. Yoshinaru Kikuchi introduced me to “Le Jardin des Sens” in Montpellier. This is a Michelin-starred restaurant, with 2 stars, owned by the famous Pourcel brothers. I had my wife waiting for me in Japan, and I promised her that I would be back in one year. I made that year a very aggressive one!

After coming back to Japan, I started at “Quintessence”. I had been introduced to the chef Mr. Shuzo Kishida by Mr. Kikuchi of “Le Bourguignon”. Actually I spoke to Mr. Kishida right before flying to France, and he had told me to contact him when I come back. And that was what I did. It happened to be the timing when his sous chef was about to leave his restaurant, so I took the position.

– Those 3 chefs are very famous ones in Japan. What did you learn from each of them?

From Mr. Ohara, in one word I learned what it is to be a chef. How a chef should act as a professional, essential manners and other things I had to minimally know.

From Mr. Kikuchi I learned the joy of French cuisine. When I worked for Mr. Ohara, I basically was involved in basic preparations, but with Mr. Kikuchi I was allowed to do everything, from the salad to roasting. Mr. Kikuchi’s philosophy in his dishes was “having no time differences from France”. That was challenging but I learned a lot. At “Le Bourguignon” we cooked only French for staff meals as well. That also was a good training for me to think and make new dishes.

Lastly, from Mr Kishida, I learned how I should be “free”. As long as one has the technique, one can cook in any country, any city. Chefs are free to make any dish. The important factors are not only the ingredients, but also chef’s strong philosophy or policy. As long as you have an unchangeable policy, you can be creative and free to express yourself in a dish. That I learned from Mr. Kishida.

– Could you tell us more about your definition of policy?

Well it’s something that’s un-negotiable and unchangeable in you, like an axis. In my case is classical French cuisine. My restaurant “Florilège” is sometimes expressed as fusion cuisine, but my dishes are actually classical French. This is my axis, my policy.

Florilege_chefkawate_interview
Florilège_My 3 masters each taught me

A border-free restaurant that could change the future of food

– Was there a trigger to leave “Quintessence”?

When I joined “Quintessence”, I gave myself a mission to set up an environment for Mr. Kishida so he can concentrate in cooking with his full inspiration. I thought I was able to meet my goal in that sense. Another trigger was, looking at many experienced staff who had training in France, I thought I should be giving my position to more junior chefs. “Quintessence” was awarded 3 Michelin stars while I was there, I thought I have done what I could do.

– Tell us your thoughts of opening “Florilège”

At first, I concentrated in making a restaurant very different from “Quintessence”. Imitating “Quintessence” wasn’t something I wanted to do, and I also felt it could be rude to Mr. Kishida. I wanted to be regarded as “Hiroyuki Kawate of Florilège”, not “Hiroyuki Kawate from Quintessence”. I admire Mr. Kishida as if I look at the top of Mount Fuji. “Quintessence” is such a big restaurant, I think it’s the top restaurant. So I wanted a factor, anything, no matter how small, that was evaluated higher than “Quintessence”. I think I could return my thanks to Mr. Kishida that way.

Not only running the restaurant, currently I am trying to contribute to the food losses and waste problem. I also attend the The World Cuisine Academic Meetings, or cook at orphanages, aiming to educate the orphans about food and diet. I think all of those actions are part of my mission. I consider career in general is contribution to society in some way or another.

We all help each other, and relate with one one another. I think that our mental fulfillment or accomplishment come from such social relationships. Therefore my “mission” is to improve the future through food, by challenging the food losses and waste problem, and understanding the sustainability of food.

–  Since when have you had this idea of “improving the future through food”?

I joined the “Itadakimasu Project”, which started in July 2014 (itadakimasu: Japanese greeting before start of the meal, thanking the food. Literally means “we are eating/having the life”). Project members are, for example, restaurant owners who serves food to support the disaster areas(earthquakes, tsunami, typhoon, etc), or farm owners. They are people who are involved in food, and are active in many ways. Many of them strongly believe they can change the future through food.

I had a chance to work with them, and it almost made me feel embarrassed that I had never been involved in such movement. Tokyo has many fantastic restaurants, and although those restaurants make people happy, I came to think that there must be many more we could do. Hadn’t I met the project and the members, my restaurant wouldn’t have been what it is today, nor have I been involved in any of the social contributions I am today.

–  Does that mean restaurant “Florilège” is a place to promote the movements and projects you and your staff are involved in?

That is right. A restaurant is established only when there are food producers, the cook, and consumers. French cuisine had not been able to speak out the background of food, such as the producers. In order to change this, I thought I have to omit borders. Therefore in my restaurant I have a counter table surrounding our open kitchen to show how the chefs make the dishes.

Providing a borderless environment is becoming more and more important today. Internet has helped to delete many borders. For instance, you can search the web to see what sort of dish is served by so and so, in whichever country. That shows that we don’t have the borders that we used to have. Being in such era, restaurants would evolve to be border-free. Hence my recipe is all open to public and I show all my kitchen work. I attach importance to having no borders or secrets.

–  Your course menu relate to social contributions. Could you tell us about them?

Examples of such dishes are those using non-heifer cows(heifer: a cow that has never had a calf), and desert using cacao imported directly from a village in Peru by Mr. Tetsuo Ota. However those messages in a dish could sometimes be too serious to be enjoyed. There were cases in the past, using only Miyagi ingredients (Miyagi: one of the most severely damaged cities by tsunami), or using only vegetable scraps. Customers would be tired from suh too serious messages. So now I try to concentrate on the overall dinner course with some simple messages.


Florilege_sustainability
Sustainable Food: beef
Beef Carpaccio using non-heifer cow from Miyazaki, with puréed smoked potato and consommé soup

Florilege_amazoncacao
Gift: Cacao from the Amazon area
Chocolate mousse using Cacao from the Amazon, with red shiso jelly and red shiso soup

 

– And you also have drink pairings in your menu.

Yes, I was qualified as sommelier when I was 23, and I like drinks other than wine as well. I have a variety of pairings, not only of wines but with cocktails or mixture of both. I also offer Japanese sake pairings and non-alcohol drink pairings.

– Japanese sake pairings with French cuisine has become popular today, but you have been offering since a while ago.

That’s true. I started the sake pairing around my second year of the restaurant, so it has now been 7 or 8 years. The reason I started it is simply because I like Japanese sake, and when I started my restaurant, I came to question wine pairings.  Looking at my staff, I thought we could come up with our own ideas more. So I spoke to the managers, and they agreed that we don’t have to limit ourselves to wines. Then we started to offer wide variety of drink pairings.

Florilege_chefKawateFlorilège_My “mission” is to improve the future through food, by challenging the food losses and waste problem, and understanding the sustainability of food

Teaming up with chefs in Asia to leap to the world

– Tell us about your actions overseas.

I’d like to have the world know what we do in Japan. My current target is to be listed in the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants”. It’s so that I my opinions have a bigger influence. No one would listen to someone with a low profile. So if I am one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, there would definitely be more people who would be interested in listening to what I say, and thence more people know what I do.

– We are also aiming to promote food culture in Japan. What are the things you keep in mind when you advertise your activities, or “Florilège” to the world?

Japanese food culture can be understood only when one visits Japan. I try to think of actions or movements that attract interest to Japan. In order to do so, the identity of each chef would be important, such as his/her ideas and what sort of dish he/she makes. So, going back to the point I gave earlier, I’d like to have the world know my restaurant “Florilège”, and the actions I am involved in. For example, telling the world Florilège has chefs with this sort of technique, we use this and this ingredients, and our dish is like this. What do you think? Please come and visit us in Japan if you are interested. And so on.

– Florilège has not only guests overseas, but also trainees from outside Japan to learn from you.

I proactively welcome trainees from overseas. That’s nothing special, it should be a normal thing. I consider it is important to share information especially within Asia. I feel it is necessary to boost up the whole of Asia, including Japan. Compared to North or South America or Europe, Asia doesn’t have power when it comes to giving opinions. I can’t help to feel that everytime I go overseas. Currently, no matter how many Asian restaurants are ranked top 10 in the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants”, Asia is still weak in its power. But that is why I try to work with chefs in Asia, or co-ordinate events. Whenever I see them, I always talk to them about doing something revolutionary in Asia.

– Lastly, please tell us your future outlooks.

I am planning to open a restaurant overseas. I have offers from Hong Kong and Bangkok, but I am thinking Taiwan. I know many chefs in Taiwan, and they are all happy to help. I don’t have a specific idea of the site, but I am thinking Taipei. I have been there once, it was a very comfortable city, safe to walk at night as well. I am hoping to help powering up Asia by opening my restaurant overseas.

Florilege

I strongly feel the the food losses and waste problem outside Japan as well. Being in the restaurant industry, we are responsible in speaking out and solving the problem. At “Florilège” we display the problem in our dish. In that way I am hoping to inform the guests, have them become conscious of such world-wide problem, and have them enjoy the meal at the same time.

“Florilège” is currently a difficult-to-book restaurant, but if you register as a member of Pocket Concierge you will be able to receive update information of various restaurants.

【Interviewer / Writer】 Naohisa Shiraishi
【Photo】 Kimihiro
【Photo of dishes】 Pocket Concierge Editors

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<Access to “Florilège”>

5-minute walk from Gaienmae station (Exit 3), Ginza Line

Florilege_counter16 counter seats facing the open kitchen for the guest .
Florilège is in a basement of a building, close from Jingumae 3-chome crossing.
Restaurant Data
Restaurant name: Florilège
Address: 2-5-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo SEIZAN Gaien Ichigaya B1F
Open hours: Lunch: 12:00~13:30 (L.O.)
Dinner: 18:30~20:00 (L.O.)
Closed: Wednesday Irregular holidays
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