Iron Chef Interview Kenichi Chen

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Ironmen of Cooking InterviewThere are no winners and losers in cooking

Kenichi Chen

Kenichi Chen

The level of Chinese cuisine in Japan is high overall
There are Chinese restaurants around the world, but Japan has reached a slightly different level of development, partly because it is close to China. There are cases like my father, who came from China and took apprentices in Japan to spread Chinese cuisine, and there are recent cases of first-class chefs coming from China to go into business. So, the level of Chinese cuisine in Japan is, overall, very high, and there is a broad range of pricing. Cooking changes with the customs and dining habits of the people living in a place, and there are probably few places where there has been so much progress in adopting new ingredients and furthering the cuisine. When my father first started, he could not get condiments from Szechwan, so he used Japanese condiments or made his own. Now we also mix in condiments from Szechwan. The customers would notice if we made any sudden changes to the flavors, so we made gradual changes to reach the current tastes.

Szechwan is said to have seven diverse flavors. It is rich in variations of flavor. The tastes may be lighter or heavier, and they have a flow to them. It is our job to find how to create that flow. We incorporate and arrange the best elements of non-Chinese cuisines as well. There are no ingredients that we don’t use. If an ingredient suits Chinese food, we build it in and use it.

Kenichi ChenA three-star restaurant to my own taste
I worked as the Chinese Iron Chef for six years, but there are no winners and losers in cooking. On the program, the judges taste-tested the challenger’s food first, then the Iron Chef’s food. Over that period, the judges keep on eating the same ingredients. That’s why the last thing I served was light and reassuring to eat, like somen (Japanese vermicelli) or rice gruel. I used tricks like looking at each judge to estimate their serving size, and cutting the pieces to convenient size for eating with chopsticks. I varied the flavors through spicy, sweet, sour, and so on. I enjoyed my hour, thinking how to please the judges and express my own cooking style. It was tough during the competitions themselves, but the good thing about being the “Iron Chef” was that even if you lost one week, there would be a next time (laughs).

Cooking is very varied. I eat everyday for work, so I go to all sorts of places. I travel all over China, trying the food, and ask chefs about recipes. I recently went to a restaurant in Spain that served 38 dishes. Making 38 dishes wouldn’t be my way, but that restaurant was too popular to get reservations. That means the customers liked it. There are chefs with all sorts of ideas around the world. Some of them do sloppy work, but even if I don’t like that, they have their fans and people come for their food, so that is a success. I don’t think Michelin is the greatest thing. If I find a place that feels to me like a three-star restaurant, that’s enough.

(After reporting)
He’s a very friendly Iron Chef, full of emotion, and with full marks for his attitude to service. He likes to go out among the customers, so when he’s in the restaurant, he may casually come over and greet diners. Apparently it’s OK to take souvenir pictures with him, and to visit the kitchen. He’s an Iron Chef who only knows to put everything into his cooking, and he will never cut corners in his work. He’s very good at switching between On and Off times, and apparently he’s a skilled golfer.

Kenichi ChenProfile
1956 : Born in Tokyo.
He studied cooking under his father, the late Kenmin Chen, and now, as the owner-chef of the Szechwan Dining group, he works to spread Szechwan cuisine and train his successors.
1993~ Sep. 1999 : As the Chinese Iron Chef on the Fuji TV show Ryori no Tetsujin (“Ironmen of Cooking”), he achieved a record of 67 wins, 22 losses and three draws.
Nov. 2006 : Recognized by Tokyo Metropolitan Government as a Tokyo Meister.

He is widely active on TV, in shows such as NHK’s “Kyo no Ryori” (Cooking Today), Fuji TV’s “Ironmen of Cooking” and TV Asahi’s “Hadaka no Shonen”, in magazines and other media. He has also published many books, including “Ironman Kenichi Chen’s Chinese Cooking”, “Today’s Main Dish by Kenichi Chen”, “My Honest Cooking”, “Iron Pot Rules”, “Carrying on My Father’s Work – Creating My Own Flavors”, “The Chinese Cuisine of Szechwan Dining” and “Suggestions for a Mature Diner’s Kitchen From Kenichi Chen of Szechwan Dining".

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