When you opened L’Effervescence, you served more classic French cuisine. I think that has evolved quite a lot, and I know that now you try to use as many local Japanese ingredients as possible. Can you talk a little about this transition?
When we opened the restaurant in 2010, maybe we were using 50 percent Japanese products, and 50 percent products imported from France and Europe. Today, I think 99 percent of our ingredients are locally sourced. Truffles are the only thing I can think of that we still import from France or Italy.
After the great earthquake in 2011, business was slow, so I had time to travel around Japan and search for local ingredients. That was when my approach towards local Japanese ingredients really changed.
What about the style of cooking? Has that also changed?
When I started the restaurant, I felt a little reluctant to use traditional Japanese ingredients like soy sauce, miso, kombu [seaweed] and katsuobushi [bonito flakes] for dashi stock. But the busier and more popular we became, I started thinking about what the value of a French restaurant in Tokyo run by a Japanese chef should be. The more I thought about it, I thought we should incorporate and introduce part of the Japanese food culture and the amazing local produce to our guests. The more I learnt through my travels around the country, and from friends and other chefs, my initial concerns of using traditional Japanese ingredients in a French restaurant disappeared and I started using things like miso, soy sauce, konbu [kelp], etc. Before Covid, many of our guests were overseas visitors and obviously they don’t come to Japan to eat what they could have had in France. They want to get a taste of Japan but in a setting and a style they can relate to.
I think maybe our mission can be defined as welcoming international visitors and offering them a familiar style of European cooking, but made using local flavours and ingredients. For our local Japanese guests, they can hopefully discover new possibilities using local Japanese ingredients. We actually have quite a few Japanese chefs who come here to get inspired.
Let’s go back a bit. You have told me before that French cuisine is like speaking English. It’s the universal language of most modern kitchens. Where did you learn the basics?
After graduating, I was trying to save my money to travel to Italy, because I was so obsessed with Italian cooking and the Italian way of life. But I didn’t have any connections so never managed to go. In 2001, Citabria was planning on opening an international restaurant and the CEO asked me to go to New York for a week and eat everything the city has to offer. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and in betweens. From bagels, Indian to three-Michelin-star dinners. I did that a whole week and ended up stuffed.