At the beginning of the week Kei Kobayashi, from Kei restaurant in Paris, became the first Japanese chef to receive three Michelin stars in France. "A big surprise" for the chef with a distinctive flock of bleached blond hair, who enters the very tight circle of 29 triple-star restaurants in France.
"There are few foreign chefs. You have accepted our place. Thank you very much, thank you France," said Kei Kobayashi upon receiving his award on the stage of the Pavillon Gabriel in front of his peers. Indeed the only other foreign chef to have received this distinction before him was the Italian-Argentinian Mauro Colagreco (Mirazur, Menton).
Images: Dishes from Kei
If foreign chefs are starting to take pride of place on the French gastronomic scene, Japanese cooks are proving to be particularly successful.
Two other Japanese chefs also caused a sensation during the Michelin Guide 2020 ceremony this Monday, by receiving two stars; Kazuyuki Tanaka, for his restaurant Racine in Reims, which offers "complex cuisine, with multiple flavors and influences", according to Michelin, and Yasunari Okazaki at L'Abysse in the heart of the Pavillon Ledoyen by Yannick Alléno.
The latter chef, who arrived in France in 2018 at the age of 40, managed to win two stars in just two years at L'Abysse. Working alongside leading French chef, Yannick Alléno, the accomplished duo are the strength of the address, where their two distinctive styles of cooking complement each other without losing their voices. On the one hand the expert and precise sushi master, and on the other the king of sauces and extractions boosting the umami effect. It's a safe bet that one of these two restaurants will win the holy grail of three stars in the years to come ...
Another Franco-Japanese duo creating a storm is Fumio Kudaka and Bertrand Larcher, respectively chef and owner of La Table du Breizh Café in Cancale, which offer the best products from the Breton terroir interpreted using Japanese techniques. Don't talk to him about "fusion cuisine", a term "too reductive" according to the chef, who prefers to speak of "mixing genres to arrive at a unique style".
The Rising Japanese Stars
It's difficult to speak about Japanese chefs who hit the headlines in France without mentioning Keita Kitamura, the understated chef from ERH restaurant, at the Maison du Saké (Paris). Distinguished last year with a first star in the Michelin Guide, the chef made an impression on the opening of the address by offering an incredible smoked foie gras with cherry wood served on a soft brioche. Keita Kitamura has also won the Lebey Guide's "best entry" prize in Paris in 2018. Lately, ERH has been less talked about in the press, but the Michelin Guide has again proven this year that the chefs that receive the most media attention were not necessarily the most rewarded.
Masafumi Hamano (ss of February 14 **, St-Amour-Bellevue), Takao Takano * (Lyon), Kunihisha Goto (L'Axel *, Fontainebleau), Takuya Watanabe (Jin *, Paris), Nobuyuki Ashige (Automne *, Paris ), Hideki Nishi (Neige d'Eté *, Paris) or Yoshiaki Ito (L'Archeste *, Paris), are all chefs who have managed to impose their Japanese roots on French gastronomic culture, breaking all the shackles and clichés that go with it.
Kei Kobayashi is also the first to refuse to be "categorized as French or Japanese cuisine", as he told AFP, saying that his wish was above all to become "the best" - a quest that is progressing at high speed for the Gilles Goujon and Alain Ducasse trained chef.