|“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.|
“La Cime” Mr. Yusuke Takada
Mr. Yusuke Takada creates his dishes inspired by various smells and post medieval documents. With the sophisticated and unimaginably creative dishes, his restaurant “La Cime” has been drawing attention of not only gourmets but also of various restaurant owners. Located in Hommachi, Osaka, his restaurant “La Cime” has been rated 2 stars in “Michelin Guide Kyoto & Osaka”. In this interview, he talks about his way of creations and his philosophy.
|Pick up topics|
|1.Wanting to Become a French Chef Since Childhood – Rare Incidence Crossed the Path|
|2.Continuously Broadcasting With Desire to Omit Borders of Restaurants Worldwide|
|3.Incomparable Routine that Organizes the Flow of Inspiration|
Wanting to Become a French Chef Since Childhood – Rare Incidence Crossed the Path
――― Thank you for the opportunity to hear about your restaurant today. Could you tell us how you decided to become a chef?
I must say was inspired by TV programs. I grew up in Amami-oshima (Island in Kagoshima), and my family runs an electronics retail store so I could watch cable TV. One of the programs I used to watch was “Roryi Daigaku”(meaning Culinary College), which was supervised by Tsuji Culinary Institute. In the program, there was a scene where a chef sets fire to some liquid in a skillet, and it was very impressive to me. I didn’t know the purpose or what it exactly meant back then, but I remember the dish was so beautifully finished. After a few years, there was a similar scene in the program “Iron Chef”, and that was when I was around 9th grade. At that time I understood what the chef was actually doing, and became interested in the technique and admired the chefs. Watching such TV programs had influence on my desire to become a chef.
――― “Iron Chef” included Japanese, French and other cuisines. Could you tell us why you chose French out of many choices?
I simply was attracted to French cuisine. In my graduation essays of elementary and middle schools, I wrote that I wanted to become a French cuisine chef in the future.
――― It’s amazing that you wanted to become a chef since your elementary school days! I understand that you trained in many areas within the French cuisine. What was the biggest factor you learned from your training days?
I would say it’s the piece of advice from a senior chef, when I was thinking of leaving the first restaurant: “Seek high, as it’s easy to go lower. Don’t seek for something lower than where you are now.” The chef had told me to experience working at the best restaurants, as such experiences are priceless not only in terms of technique, but mentally and physically. I still keep in mind that one must seek the summit, or one cannot experience the “good quality works”.
――― I see the importance of “good quality works”. On the other hand, back when you were training, I believe Japanese chefs were not very highly assessed, and it must have been difficult to work and train at 3-starred restaurants overseas.
Yes. I had a chance to study at Tsuji Culinary Institute in France, but my real training in France started 10 years ago, when I was 29. I didn’t have a particular connection, only the contact of one Japanese person in France, whom I was introduced to. I was able to obtain a student visa, so I signed up at a language school to start with, so I could write my CV in French.
I had an interesting experience there. On the first day at the language school, one Japanese man whom I didn’t even know came to me and asked me, “are you a chef?” We had a conversation, and I was asked if I was interested in working at “Taillevent”, which was a 2- starred restaurant back then. I was of course interested, but I was fresh to France, couldn’t speak a word in French. So I told the man, “let me study French for 3 months, and if you still remembered me, please ask me again.”
From that day, I studied French day and night, and when I was able to have simple conversations in French, the man came to me again. That was exactly 3 months after the first meeting.
――― Wow, I’m surprised such things actually happen!
Honestly, there are so many people coming to sign up for the school every day. I must say it was some destiny or fate that I had such an opportunity. My aim of going to France was to work and be trained at a Michelin 3-starred restaurant. I didn’t attach much importance in learning the culinary technique, but I was more interested in things like the team structure, the organization structure, or how exactly the real French grande maisons are.
Eventually I was able to work at “Le Meurice”, a Michelin 3-starred restaurant. I was properly employed there, and I believe it is highly owed to former Japanese chefs, 10 or even 20 years older than myself, who have worked there and gained trust. If it wasn’t for them, I couldn’t have had the position, where I didn’t have any connection, and I couldn’t have been who I am today.
I still keep in mind that one must seek the summit, or one cannot experience the ‘good quality works’
Continuously Broadcasting With Desire to Omit Borders of Restaurants Worldwide
――― You started your own restaurant in 2010 after various experiences. Could you tell us about when you started your restaurant?
Fates and chances, I should say. I’ve always wanted to have my own restaurant, but I still wanted to experience working in other restaurants in Japan. I’ve been to many interviews, but have been rejected by all of them. Then I started to have offers on financial support. And in 2010, I started to realistically think about starting my own restaurant. However I didn’t have any knowledge in running a restaurant. I initially thought people would come as long as I served good food, but I had a hard time attracting customers.
――― Were there crossroads or turning points?
Appearing in “Michelin Guide Kyoto & Osaka” gradually started to change the situation. And changing the interior also had some influence. “Noma” had a big influence on me, and initially my restaurant interior was close to that of “Noma”, with wooden tables without table cloths. Around 10 years back, when I was in France, “Noma” was gaining popularity, appearing on many French magazines. That was a period when Scandinavian or Nordic cuisine was attracting attention, putting aside the modern Spanish cuisine. I admired “Noma” and its natural interior, having bare wooden tables, a long table for the staff, and the high quality food they served.
And French restaurants were not as common as they are today, and to many people, expensive restaurants had to be luxurious. Such mismatch may trigger to be a hot topic today, but 7 years ago it definitely did not. I was not in the shoes of the customers, thought subjectively more than I should, and I did not have strong fans or personal connections who could invite more customers. I improved all those points and then customers started to increase.
――― That is interesting. You gradually changed the initial concept of your restaurant.
That’s right. You have to initiate the change, or it takes too long just waiting for customers to understand and visit. I concentrated so that a customer would have a good impression on their visit.
On a different note, I feel that Japan is always behind the trend in terms of restaurants. For example, currently, South American restaurants are attracting attention, but my dream is to omit borders regarding restaurant trends, with no time difference. I’d like to make Japanese original standards rather than trends.
――― Speaking of border-free, Japanese cuisine is winning popularity overseas today.
Exactly. In Japanese cuisine, Mr. Hasegawa of “Den” and other Japanese chefs have committed to omit borders. Their performances have definitely played a role in that sense. Then, maybe for example Japanese restaurants in Kyoto could jointly work to inform and spread the culture, and Japanese cuisine would be more well known and understood. However, currently there are many visitors to Japan, experiencing and spreading the real Japanese food and culture. It is one of my concerns that may cause the rest of the world to be satiated of information and leading to disinterest.
――― I see your point. Given such situation, do you have plans or ideas on bringing “La Cime” dishes border-free?
In the past, we had to have journalists come to us to broadcast who we are. Today, customers themselves can spread information on restaurants through social media. I feel the need to utilize such opportunity, so we serve our customers with care. We use Instagram to broadcast ourselves visually, and we also provide minimum information together with it.
――― I see. With the high development of social media, your dishes and services can easily be focused.
That’s right. Even with photos on the wet, you cannot realistically feel it unless you eat the food. It’s important to utilize social media to motivate customers to visit my restaurant.
I’d like to make Japanese original standards rather than trends
Incomparable Routine that Organizes the Flow of Inspiration
――― What do you attach importance to in your daily work of cooking?
I of course pursue the taste, but I also value to continuously create new dishes, coming out from my senses. I compose about 300 new dishes every year. Not all of them may be perfect, but this is part of my study, my morning routine work. I don’t set a theme, nor have any particular ideas. I just open the fridge in the morning, and start making by what I have in my sense. I take pictures of them to record the new dishes.
Other than that, I try to engage myself in many things during the day, talk to people, empty out my thoughts, listen to music, or think of my customers. I think it’s essential to sense many things. And I am hoping that showing my daily routine work to my staff would give them hints on their creativity. This is actually one of our selling points. We even sometimes serve totally different courses to our repeat customers. I also think the cooking process is important. Rather than concentrating on the perfection of a dish, it is important to convey the chef’s feelings through the dish.
――― 300 new dishes in one year is such a vast amount. How do you get all your ideas?
It’s the smell. Smell could be more fascinating than the appearance. For instance, you would smell something wherever you would go. Smells of overseas, smell of your hometown, smell of Osaka. There are also smell of my restaurant, smell of home, and those remain in your memories. Smell of Paris subway, smell of Paris street, smell of Manhattan, smell of the airport. And when you smell something, it could resemble something in your memory. That piece of information makes me link to similar smells, get inspired, and I reflect it to my dish.
Also, I read French cuisine books thoroughly for the first one or two years of my restaurant. Not those with many pictures, but documents all written in French. I looked up what I didn’t understand, and obtained many ideas. What’s known as “French cuisine” worldwide is actually only 30% of the whole of the cuisine. So with the desire to introduce the rest, I studied the regional dishes of 22 states in France, reconstructed them and included such dishes in my menu in my initial years. However this wasn’t highly approved, as I didn’t explain the concept or the original regional cuisines and left many factors too vague. No customer had the knowledge of the French regional cuisines. On the other hand though, visiting chefs were delighted, telling me there were so much to learn from there.
――― I see. But I believe such expeience was valuable as well.
Yes it was definitely valuable. I learned to imagine from what was written. Such imagination is crucial when cooking. Reading books written in 17 to 19th centuries with a dictionary beside me is very inspiring, some of the recipes actually appear innovative today. The information I learned from those old books enriched my knowledge. For example, in the old days, pork fat was also used in place for butter. Pastries were made from pork fat, flour and sugar.
Some of those old recipes faded, as they did not have a high demand. On the other hand, recipes such as pies remained as they have had daily demand. But the ones with less demand sometimes do appear on internet or published in books.
New styles in cooking go viral when an influential person or those with power broadcast it with some messages. However such “new” styles could have existed regionally or just was not widely known. I tend to think that way, in a sense that I don’t always go after new fashion. As a chef and owner of a restaurant, I think it is essential to have a philosophy that does not easily changed.
Famous chefs tend to love the environment they grew up. They would study it, add the essence to their technique and they to the rest of the world. Japanese chefs should do the similar study, and it should give them chances to discover new ideas and make it easier to broadcast to the world. It’ll take time but I should do it too, pass the custom on to young chefs, and it should change the whole structure, gradually forming originality. That way we can still respond to what the customers are looking for, without changing our own philosophy.
――― I see that you have created many new dishes. Could you tell us the restaurant’s Spécialité?
I serve a “Boudin Dog” as entree, and that’s our one and only spécialité. It’s a black colored hotdog. Boudin noir in black dough, colored with edible bamboo charcoal.
For the 20 years since I became a chef, I have always felt the changes of era while I cook everyday. My other dishes evolve and change by time, but this dish remains the same, as a mark of where I started, and respecting the French. I daily develop and change my other dishes as I believe “freshness” or “newness” of dish ideas are important. In my idea, the most important factors of French cuisine are oil/fat and acid. I try to keep their best balance while I apply changes to my dishes. Changes are important to keep attracting customers and not boring them.
――― Thank you very much. Lastly could you tell us about your future aspirations?
I’d like to develop a good environment for the young chefs. I feel the chefs are valued differently in Japan, compared to Europe and US. I strongly feel that chefs in Japan are valued lower than they should, and that’s something to be changed. Another point is the age. It is better to start young when dealing with the rest of the world. Acquire necessary languages while young. Always be prepared to study abroad so that you can make your move when you see the chance. And such environment could be given by the restaurants or the government.
When Japanese cuisine becomes more widely known to the world, the presentation should change. What non-Japanese customers are looking for in Japanese food are different from what Japanese customers are looking for. So, for example, chefs should use Japanese ingredients and cook with western technique. That should make it easier to advertise the Japanese ingredients, rather than presenting the Japanese cuisine itself.
Hence talented young chefs should be supported more. They deserve environments that looks at their character and talent. I am trying to make such environment so that young chefs, in their 20s or early 30s can be educated quickly. I have my young chefs proactively join competitions, so that they can feel and have connections outside the restaurant, while they keep the position at my restaurant. I want to help them to keep their motivations high, and to improve their technique. I am preparing for my next step myself.
【A Word from the Chef】
While continuously developing my dishes other than my spécialité, “La Cime” is also known for “French dishes made by chef from Amami Oshima”. I use ingredients from Amami Oshima in both lunch and dinner. Dishes are inspired from what my mother or grandmother used to make. I also like to listen to my customers’ wishes, and try to work out how I can satisfy them. Thank you very much.
【Interviewe】 Kei Tokado
【Writer】 Naohisa Shiraishi
【Photos of Mr. Takada】Pocket Concierge Editors
【Photos of the restaurant and dishes】 “La Cime”
Access to “La Cime”
5 minutes walk from Hommachi station Exit 1, Midosuji line(subway)
|Address：||1F Usami Building, 3-2-15 Kawaramachi, Chuo-ku, Osaka City, Osaka|