YOSHIAKI TAKAZAWA - Takazawa
"I think too much about food!"
Why do you cook?
My parents had a restaurant in Koenji, it was a casual diner called Maruyoshi. I grew up in their kitchen and had a number of responsibilities. When I was a toddler, I was a dishwasher.
I went to culinary school in Shinjuku for one year after high school. Japanese culinary school seemed like a joke at the time to me. It was like a club and not so serious. Many friends my age didn’t really want to be chefs, but it was considered an easy option. But I was serious from the beginning. In high school, I wanted to be a Japanese chef for my grandmother. My parents were very busy. Every day after elementary and junior high school, I would go home to my grandmother and she would cook for me. She would sometimes bring me to the park, like Jindai Botanical Park in Mitaka [western Tokyo]. To this day, whenever I see flowers I think of her. I loved her and loved being with her. When I was in elementary school, she was already about eighty. I wanted to cook for her. I knew her palate, so I wanted to cook her the things that she liked, such as nabe [hot pot dishes] and tsukemono [preserved vegetables].
There was one great culinary teacher at my school; he taught us French cooking, European cooking. I was really interested in the presentation of the dishes, which seemed to be more complicated. Traditional Japanese cooking is very simple, so this interested me.
What motivates you?
I just want to create something new for each customer. If I do make the same dishes, I try to improve on them every day. When I graduated from culinary school, I was at the top of the class. At graduation, I was to have gotten the best award, but the teachers didn’t like that I would correct them. Only one teacher liked me. They said I was a bit too blunt and honest. They told me I wouldn’t be a successful chef, but I wanted to prove them wrong.
What has the biggest influence on your cooking?
The ingredients, and the seasons for sure. Wine inspires me, French wine. I am also a sommelier. Wine takes me to heaven. I have created the Wine Tasting dessert, which is about ten or twelve little pieces of jelly made from wine. Half are made from white wines and half from reds, reflecting the essence and flavors of the wines. I also vary the ingredients in each, adding elements that complement the notes in wine, like fruit. Customers try to figure out what is inside. It is like an actual wine tasting.
What do you do on your day off?
I like to eat out. Basically, I like to eat sushi, sometimes unagi [eel]. I go to Harutaka in Ginza. On Sunday, I might go to Shimizu in Shinbashi. I think too much about food. With sushi, it’s simple. And if it’s my favorite place, it’s comfortable for me. I like shellfish, especially clam and abalone.
What are your earliest food memories?
When I was a kid, about four or five, I was playing with some cooking tools, like a veggie slicer, and I cut my finger. I was cutting a cucumber with a mandolin and didn’t realize I was cutting my finger. On my parents’ day off, we went to an unagi [eel] restaurant every Saturday. I liked it very much. Sometimes, I still go to this restaurant, it’s Adzumaya at Asagaya station not far from Koenji station where I grew up. My parents loved eel. If my parents found a restaurant and a food they really liked, they would always go back to that restaurant.
Who do you admire in the food world?
Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago, he overcame his illness. I can’t imagine. And his precision and skill are amazing.
Joshua Skenes of Saison in San Francisco. I visited his kitchen two years ago. He shared many ways of preserving food San Francisco style. He also only uses wood fire.
I respect Ferran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak in San Sebastian; for all they have done for Spanish gastronomy.
What was one of your most valuable experiences traveling abroad?
When we opened this restaurant, we were interested in Spanish cuisine. We like the quality of the bright red gambas [prawns] at La Boqueria in Barcelona—a simple and very good product. Then when I visited Chicago and went to Alinea for the first time, I was impressed by Grant’s presentation and innovative ideas.
For you, what does it mean to be Japanese?
Nowadays I have many chances to go to other countries to meet many foreigners. After we travel and come back to Japan, I always feel that Japan is convenient, comfortable, and peaceful, with very tasty food as well.
Details are very important, and so is an interest in learning. In the restaurant industry in Japan, we are educated by older chefs who are very strict. Now, however, this is a changing a bit.
How do you think growing up in Japan informs your style and what are you trying to communicate?
We respect the seasons and ingredients. Because of my grandmother, I understand the seasons. I want the customer to understand where they are eating, what they are eating, and why they are eating it at that particular moment in time.For example, in Japan, we have Boys’ Day on May 5, represented by the carp-shaped flag. I express this annual event through my dish koi nobori [carp flag]. I want the customers to really know where they are, and what the season, in May, provides.
What do you like most about Tokyo, and what do you think makes it different from other cities and countries around the world?
I appreciate my suppliers in Tokyo, we can get anything easily. They can bring everything to us right away, even if it’s a difficult request. I don’t think that anywhere else in the world could be better than Tokyo for my restaurant.
If you could share a meal with anyone, who would it be?
I would like to invite my family: my grandmother, my parents, and my wife Akiko.
What is tough about your industry?
Working in the restaurant industry is very hard work, with long working hours. Chefs’ lives are shortened, once they become head chef. It’s a stressful life physically and mentally; head chefs are always busy. In other industries, you can work until old age. We are like athletes. But I would like to change this. I’d like staff to stay longer and stick with things longer; they are impatient. We need to change the dynamic in society, where now cooks get low pay for long hours. Maybe then, they will stop thinking it’s so hard. It’s very complicated.
What is one of your favorite films?
The Dark Knight Rises. I like this film because Batman never gives up. He is always hopeful and persistent.
Takazawa opened in 2005.
Sanyo Akasaka Bldg 2F, 3-5-2 Akasaka, Tokyo