In 2009, Shinnichi Sato opened "Passage 53" in Paris, becoming the first Japanese chef to win two Michelin stars in the Michelin Guide in France in 2011. He successfully won two stars for eight consecutive years. However, he left "Passage 53" for a new restaurant that he wishes to open in 2021. In this interview, Mr. Sato shares his opinions about Japan and France from a culinary perspective.
Perceiving a Sudden Return to Japan as an Opportunity
Konoe：I recently had dinner at "THE GASTRONOMY " *1 held at the Hotel New Otani, by you and Mr. Takada. I enjoyed the art of French ingredients and dishes skillfully combined with Japanese elements, including mixologist Ms. Nagumo. I heard that you are now preparing for your next restaurant, but I think the situation in France must have been very difficult due to the pandemic. What did you do during the lockdown? Sato：I was looking for investors and properties for a new restaurant, aiming for three stars in Paris, however that was when the pandemic hit and France went on a lockdown. Since I could not do anythint in France, I temporarily flew to Japan last spring, and returned to France in the summer to sign a property contract, but France went on a lockdown again. I went back to Japan again and have stayed here for a while. However, I got a job in Japan at a really good time. Returning to Japan gave me time to look at various Japanese foods vessels for my next restaurant, so in a way, I see this situation as an opportunity.
※1 THE GASTRONOMY" Japanese Chef Fair Vol. 11 "THE GASTRONOMY" Shinichi Sato & Yusuke Takada介
Hotel New Otani 2/26-28, 2021
From「THE GASTRONOMY」Herring | Banpeiyu (citrus maxima)
The Change in his Culinary Eyes in Japan
Konoe：I understand that you have been forced to stay in Japan for an extended period of time, but has there been any impacts or influences on your thoughts or attitude toward cooking? Sato：I used to think that French cuisine could only be expressed with European ingredients. French cuisine is created by crossing unique characteristics with powerful tastes, so it is difficult to achieve with Japanese ingredients that tend to be more deilcate. For example, Japanese fish tastes very good as sashimi, dried fish, or char-grilled fish. However, when sauced, the flavor of the fish itself is not brought out to its full potential. We have made prototypes with powerful fish such as kue and fugu, but we have not been able to reach a satisfactory point. There was a time when I thought to myself what the point was of using Japanese ingredients to make French cuisine. Anyway, I decided to travel around Japan and eat my way through the country.
Konoe：It seems like an issue that only someone like you, someone who has been competing with people in Paris for so many years, would face. Did you have any good encounters? Sato：Yes, I did. I had a great encounter with a chef who grows his own ingredients for cooking. He knows all about the individuality of the vegetables, so he can cook superb dishes even with Japanese ingredients. I realized that the idea of "French cuising must be made by using French ingredients" was my own lack of ability. I had been trying to make dishes similar to the ones I had made in France, but I realized that it was important to think about "making delicious dishes using local ingredients". Since then, when I cook, I always try to take a good look at the ingredients and make sure to turn them into something tasty.
From「THE GASTRONOMY」Snow mussel | Bamboo shoots, whitebait | Seri, suckling lamb | Cherry blossoms
Aiming to be a Culinary Artisan
Konoe：I am guessing that was a big change! By the way, were there any Japanese ingredients or dishes that you think could be used in France as well? Sato：I have always thought that abalone and wagyu beef are by far the best. There are many more, but they are usually difficult to obtain locally, so it is difficult to use them in France. This is also a difficulty in terms of transportation, but the ume vinegar sold by my friend Nami Iijima*2 is wonderful. We are very grateful to have someone like Ms. Iijima who introduces us to fine ingredients. I also found some good tableware when I visited a restaurant in Kanazawa. When I contacted the artist, I learned that the dishes were only available in Kanazawa City. It is a waste of such a wonderful thing. I think there are many more wonderful things out there. Konoe：Those who make high quality products, whether it being food or crafts, are not necessarily good at promotion and sales, and there is a limit to how far you can go in Japan alone, so it would be good to find a curator.
Sato：Yes, I wish to work together with professionals in other fields that share the passion of "Let's create something wonderful together and gain recognition around the world!" I wish to design every aspect of the restaurant, including the food, sake, tableware, interior design, music, staff uniforms, even the tone and aroma of the restaurant. In the process, I would like to convey the good of Japan. For example, we asked a Japanese individual to design our main dining room, that uses Japanese materials including cypress.
From「THE GASTRONOMY」Northern pintail | Great burdock
Konoe：A French restaurant is both a place to eat and a place for entertainment. I am looking forward to see your unique experience design*3 at the new restaurant you are preparing in Paris. For example, it is easy to understand by comparing tourism in Japan with other countries. In Japan, there is a thorough explanation, but overseas, only the bare minimum is provided. Otherwise it is just open-ended. And that is the experience that satisfies foreign visitors.
Sato：I agree. I wish to design a splendid space where the customer is left to his or her own senses after being escorted to the table. But most importantlyl, I want to pursue "deliciousness". Just now, after temporarily returning to Japan, I am receiving great inspiration from Japanese artisans. I think it is amazing to be specialized in one thing and to dig deeper. I would like to become a artisan in the culinary field and surprise people with a flavor created by me.
※2 Nami Iijima Representative of 7days kitchen. Food stylist. Active in a wide range of food-related fields, including movies, TV dramas, commercials, advertisements, magazines, and food stalls. ※3 Experience Design The act of designing the process of using a product or service that users perceive as valuable.
Bringing Japanese Good to the World Through French Cuisine
Konoe：You are one of the few chefs who have been recognized in France, but I think the view of Japanese chefs in France has changed a lot in the past ten years or so. Sato：I think French people trust Japanese people a lot. However, I also think we are not yet truly recognized. For example, it is common for French people to say that Japanese people are highly competent in the culinary world, but in fact there is only one Japanese person who has received three stars in France*4, which proves that our French cuisine is not yet acknowledged. *4 I would like to continue to challenge myself, aiming to be appreciated as a French cuisine, rather than as a Japanese cuisine by making extensive use of new Japanese ingredients. How can I bring out the goodness of Japan in France with limited ingredients? During my long stay in Japan, I have met many people that made me again acknowledge the beauty of Japan, and I am carefully searching for the suitable elements for my new restaurant.
※4 In 2020, Kei Kobayashi's Restaurant Kei was awarded three stars.
From「THE GASTRONOMY」Cacao | Haskap, Amami brown sugar | Rum raisin
Passing it Down to Future Generations
Konoe：How do you feel about passing on traditions in the culinary world? For example, in the field of Noh plays and traditional crafts, it is common to see the tradition disappear after a specific person leaves. Sato：Our world is somewhat similar. The reality is that chefs are often financially challenged, and the number of students in culinary schools are decreasing. However, even though I myself do not cook old dishes, I sometimes learn old cooking methods and create new dishes based on them. For example, today, lamb can be roasted by setting the temperature on a machine and pipping it. But if you are not familiar with the process, you will never realize that there is a difference between in the original lamb. What if the electricity goes down? This is the exact reason why we ask our staff to touch the lamb, and to check the process from raw to roasted. I also tell them fun facts such as wild hares are caught every winter and are available during that season, while skinning the hare. The skills and knowledge that form the base of French cuisine are crucial, and it is difficult to acquire them unless someone teaches them to you. I grew up learning from many people. I would like to pass on these traditional techniques and knowledge to my students, not just have them work in my restaurant.
「THE GASTRONOMY」and its chefs
Konoe：That is wonderful. Where did the desire come from? Sato：The only reason why I am able to win stars is because of the people who passed on their skills to me, like my investors, and many otherd. I must repay that debt by passing it on to the next generation. For example, I let the younger staff members do the saucing and serving. If they are given jobs that are not so-called joe-jobs, they will be able to find meaning in it. In order to continue to be a chef, it is important to have an original experience that makes cooking fun. When I cook for a large group of people at a large-scale scene like Hotel New Otani, I try to have as many young chefs as possible to experience the fun of cooking, so that they can pass it on to the next generation.
Konoe：I can imagine young chefs being excited to be taught by a Michelin star chef like you. I could clearly see that your experiential design is not only for the customers who eat the food, but also for the staff of the restaurant. I am looking forward to visiting your new restaurant in Paris. Thank you so much for taking your time today.
Shinnichi Sato's Profile
Born in Hokkaido, Japan in 1977. Chef.
After training in Hokkaido, moved to France in 2000, opened "Passage53" in 2009, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, becoming the first Japanese chef to be awarded two stars by the French Michelin Guide in 2011. Has continued to receive two stars for eight consecutive years. Closed "Passage53" in 2019. Currently preparing for the opening of new restaurant in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.
Other corporators：Hotel New Otani