iron Chef Interview Hiroyuki Sakai

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Ironmen of Cooking InterviewThe Japanese palate is highly sensitive and subtle.

Hiroyuki Sakai

Hiroyuki Sakai La Rochelle

French cuisine, polished by Japanese taste
The culinary cultures of Japan and France are very different, so if French cuisine is simply transferred to Japan unmodified, the Japanese will not accept it. It has to be tailored to the Japanese. A unique culture has grown up within Japan, partly because it is an island nation. Lately, it has taken in all kinds of things from around the world, so its culinary culture has become extraordinarily broad and diverse. The Japanese palate, polished on such cuisine, is highly sensitive and subtle. Japanese fingers are deft. Perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world. To succeed, in business terms, the chef’s own sensitivity and some additional factor are required.

Hiroyuki SakaiCustomers will not be impressed just by food prepared with the dedication of a chef. It is important for the chef to keep his eyes on the customers at all times and express his own personal cuisine. If he is not deeply aware of the customer’s tastes, it will be difficult to keep going. As cooks are people too, the people making the food must also have some scope for enjoying themselves. The staff should enjoy their jobs, so the customers can enjoy the experience. I hate it when only the customers are enjoying

themselves and only the staff are suffering. So rather than trying to satisfy all of the customers, if 80% of the customers are happy and the people making the food have some scope to enjoy themselves as they provide hospitality, the situation will certainly generate some warmth. The customers won’t be put under any stress or tension. That is why we ask our customers to obey a minimum level of rules as well.

Food is a matter of taste. People have restaurants they personally like and frequent. I’m happy if we can become one of those. We don’t take the attitude of making food to satisfy “gastronomes”, as if we only deal with those diners at the pinnacle of the pyramid. I want the staff to have fun and the customers to be satisfied. Restaurants should be apart from the everyday, while keeping a friendly atmosphere. If the customers have space to enjoy themselves and the staff have time to enjoy themselves, that is enough.

“Ironmen of Cooking” is now popular overseas
On the TV program, we didn’t see the ingredients until two minutes before the program started. Then there was only an hour from the start, so it was not possible to produce perfection.

It was a matter of how to make it look stylish, pretty and delicious. How to make it look delicious to eat. It was a show, but it was also a serious program, in real time. As you can imagine, I was very tense. The “iron man” to take the challenge was chosen a week in advance. The challenger was known four days in advance. The scariest thing was facing young chefs still in their careers in city restaurants. They do it for real, so there was no way of knowing what they would do. During the contest, there’s no time to wonder what the challenger is doing. The program ended ten years ago, but it still airs around the world. There are also a lot of offers from overseas. These days I still go out to charity events with chefs from around the world. In future, it will also be important for chefs to make a social contribution.

(After reporting)
What made an impression on me when I was researching before the interview was the smiling faces of the staff on the blog. It showed how the chef sees staff as assets, and made me a fan. Statements such as aiming for 80% rather than perfection can easily be misinterpreted as a sloppy attitude, but what he seems to be saying is that some scope for relaxation is needed in order to greet the customers with warm hospitality. He will absolutely not deviate from his own style. He expresses himself in dishes that he has confidence in. The customers are the ones who judge. Words like that give a feeling of his self-confidence as a cook.

Hiroyuki SakaiProfile
1942 : Born in Kagoshima Prefecture.
He entered the world of French cuisine at the age of 17. At 19, he moved to Australia alone. He returned to Japan after a year and a half of training, and carried on training in Japan.
1980 : He established La Rochelle as a French restaurant in Minami Aoyama.
1989 : He opened another branch on the 32nd floor of the Shibuya Toho Building (now the Shibuya Cross Tower).
Feb. 1994 ~ Sep. 1999 : He performed as the French Iron Chef on Fuji TV's “Ironmen of Cooking” show. His record was 70 wins, 15 losses, one draw.
1999 : He opened the La Rochelle Minami Aoyama French restaurant.
2000 : He provided lunch for the G7 Seven-nation Conference of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Directors.
2002 : He opened the La Rochelle Fukuoka French restaurant.
2004 : He received the Chevalier Award from the “Knights of Gastronomy” in the Loire region of France.

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