What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?
My interest in food started at an early age. My parents, owning a book store, didn’t have much time to cook so we went out for dinner a lot and I got acquainted with many different tastes and dishes. I initially started working as a porter at Hotel Okura Tokyo, but got the opportunity to do a one-year training course in the kitchen. Curious to learn more about Europe, I decided to continue my career in Amsterdam in 1984. For many years I was trained by Yamazato’s previous Executive Chef Akira Oshima, who was made Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau in recognition of his work – successfully introducing the authentic Japanese cuisine (kaiseki ryori) in the Netherlands.
What would you say has inspired your cooking the most?
Traveling to many different countries and experiencing things I have never done before are what inspires my cooking the most. I have been to many European countries as well as others like Canada, Singapore, Uganda, and Kenya. My mission is, of course, to gain awareness of the Japanese cuisine and to tell local people in those countries about Japan. However, I also seek the opportunity for myself to become more creative, which makes me come up with new ideas. In Europe it is still hard to find the right ingredients at the right moment, therefore what is most important is that it goes well with the Japanese cuisine. So I really enjoy traveling around and experimenting with the new ideas I get from my trips and to finally see if the guests like it.
Describe how you see your own culinary style and how it has evolved over the years…
The most important thing I always keep in mind is the seasonality. In Japan there are four distinct seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter), and each season provides us with specific kinds of ingredients, fish, vegetables, and fruits. One of my goals is to deliver and express the season by selecting the best ingredients at the best time. Paying attention to local food is another key for me in making my dishes special. I am not looking for Japanese fusion cuisine, but applying those nice local fresh ingredients to the authentic Japanese cuisine creates a dish that is very unique and it even attracts local guests who know all about their local food. This is why I go to a local food market every day to look for the best ingredients. Another one of my focuses lays on ensuring the appearance of each dish. At Yamazato Restaurant we pay a lot of attention to how each ingredient is decorated, cut, and set on the plate, which is essential for kaiseki cuisine.
What are your most indispensable ingredients?
Wasabi or green horse radish is one of the ingredients I really like to work with. When you smash it, you will get a spicy flavor. When you grate it, you will get more flavor with mild spiciness. Wasabi is not an ingredient that plays a big role, but it is very nice in combination with all kinds of dishes.
What kind of experience do you aim to give guests at the restaurant?
What I still remember is that Chef Oshima always mentioned “Realize what guests really want to experience and why they are dining in our restaurant”. There are many restaurants that only serve what they like to serve to the guest; however, in my opinion thanks to Chef Oshima, accepting new ideas is also essential to impress the guest. That is why we decided to use many of the ingredients available in Europe as substitutes for Japanese ingredients. Especially 20 years ago, it was very difficult to find proper ingredients in Europe, therefore it was and still is important to accept that and make adjustments so that local guests can enjoy the dishes. According to the Japanese kaiseki cuisine there are strict rules on how we start, serve and finish. For example, sushi is actually the dish we consider as one of the main dishes which is served before the dessert. Before serving sushi, there are other courses such as Zensai (appetizer), Sashimi, and Nimono (simmered dish). However, I have experienced that many local guests see sushi as an appetizer and they are looking for meat or fish as a main dish instead of sushi. This is the reason I decided to offer small sushi together with appetizers so they can enjoy the dish in their own way. Understanding what a guest wants is essential in order for them to be happy and enjoy the Japanese cuisine.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?
In 2010 I have taken over day-to-day management of Yamazato and Teppanyaki Restaurant, the hotel’s other Japanese restaurant, from chef Oshima. A truly memorable moment for which I had been preparing for many years. Keeping a Michelin star is not self-evident after a change of chefs, so it was a big appreciation for my work to keep Yamazato’s Michelin star the year after. When Sazanka also received its first star last November, I could not be happier and the whole team was ecstatic.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?
I would advise any starting chef to realize that cooking is not for your self-satisfaction but for others surrounding you. My mission is to deliver Japanese beauty, culture, and seasonality through the Japanese cuisine, and I really appreciate it when guests enjoy my dishes. Therefore, it is very important to realize that cooking is not for yourself as chef but for those who enjoy and appreciate the food itself.
Another thing I would like to advise is to love cooking. As long as you love what you are doing, you will get to experience very precious moments which you will only realize afterwards. Enjoy and love cooking.
What’s next for you?
Yamazato recently reopened its doors after a three-month renovation. Not only were the restaurant including reception area and sushi bar completely redecorated. The renovation also included the kitchen, which is a long-time dream coming true. I love being in my new kitchen with the newest equipment at hand and can’t wait to develop new, creative ideas in line with the traditional character and high quality level of Yamazato.
Hotel Okura Amsterdam
Ferdinand Bolstraat 333
1072 LH Amsterdam
+3120 678 7111