Since the opening of his restaurant, L'Effervescence, in Tokyo, chef Shinobu Namae has pursued a nature-inspired approach in his creations using Japanese ingredients and evoking French techniques in an elegant and original cuisine — recognized both by Michelin (which awarded him two stars) and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list (where it is placed in #20).
But today, almost 10 years after serving the first dishes to his clientele, Namae is seeking to further intensify this relationship with nature, trying to respect as much as possible the resources of the Japanese natural environment that he uses in his kitchen — with all the ingredients organic and sourced by local farmers. It’s a more balanced relationship, as he likes to say, since the word 'sustainability' is everywhere, and sometimes overused, according to him.
Photo Luuvu Hoang
“I truly believe that it is relevant to remember an old Japanese philosophy that preaches ‘don't rush, be peaceful minded, and make valuable things to last longer’. Something one might say is the perfect translation for sustainability,” he explains. Namae is paving his way towards environmental responsibility by focusing on practices that can reduce the damage that the restaurant industry has caused.
Stop food wasting
His main goal is to fight food waste, leading his team to think about not only how to use the whole ingredients in recipes (such as his signature dish, a tender whole Japanese turnip cooked for four-hour in sous-vide and served with brioche crumbs) but also to think about the best way to dispose of them, so they can be reintegrated to the environment, seeking to close the loop in the food chain.
Photo Luuvu Hoang
He was one of the first chefs in the country to install in his business a garbage processing machine capable of breaking down organic matter into carbon dioxide and water with the use of billions of microorganisms. The solution is then naturally throw in Tokyo’s sewage system, with no damage to the environment.
A former lawyer, Namae started his career in gastronomy by working at Michel Bras' Toya Japon (in Hokkaido, Japan) and at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck (in Bray, UK). When he made up his mind about finally opening his own place, he knew it would have to highlight fresh produce — including unconventional cuts from animals, ethically-sourced vegetables and locally-caught fish.
“There is a Japanese word called Itadakimasu which we traditionally say before a meal. It means we are grateful for the food, that ‘we thank every life (or sacrifice) that allows us to live’. Without this humility, we cannot survive. So I think we cannot waste anything, since we don’t want to be negligent about we have around us”, he says. Especially at a time when the mistreatment we have inflicted on the planet has become more evident. Namae says we can’t no longer pretend we don't see it.
The power of environment
His cuisine poetically embrace nature in signature dishes like Hearth in a quiet night (a beef sirloin served with trumpet and black truffle). Inspired by Japanese landscapes, he glimpses a better balance with the environment around us. “As human beings, we have always shared resources, time, the same space. But as history went by, the concept of sharing was much transformed into possessing and dominating. I believe in the power of the food industry as a way to reconnect people to the concept of sharing", he says. One example of it is that treated Namae shares a full list of the suppliers (from vegetables to coffee, from designers to cutlery) for the restaurant on L’Effervescence website.
Photo Luuvu Hoang
According to the government, Japan wastes around 6.5 million tons of food per year. Restaurants alone account for 35 percent of the edible waste generated by food business in the country. As chefs are leaders in these food scenario, Namae believes they can’t “only cook delicious food”, but also have to “share knowledge, thoughts, and motivation to fix many problems in our society”, especially regarding food loss.
Of course expressions like “locally sourced”, “ethical fair trade”, and “no-waste cooking” sound good for restaurants. But Namae believes chefs need to perpass these concepts from their fancy kitchens — and this is kind of mea culpa. “We have to work in a more sustainable way not only thinking about fine dining restaurants, but also about our commodity ingredients too”, he says.
The ultimate challenge
Since he opened Bricolage Bread & Co., a mixture of café and bakery in Roppongi neighborhood, Namae is now wondering how to optimize the resources of a 200 euros menu and a 2 euros bread at the same time. “It seemed challenging at the beginning, but actually it complement each other”, he explains.
According to him, it is not enough just to look for the most exclusive ingredients in a sustainable way, but for all daily ingredients that are used in a kitchen as well, including flour, sugar, among others. “Pursuit of sustainability is the only way to get humanity back, to survive in the future”, Namae says. And it has to encompass each ingredient and each process in a professional restaurant, from the kitchen to the service. “I hope we regain the genuine humanity to fix this entirely unfair state of the world”, he adds. Namae has chose food as his weapon for that.
L'Effervescence at a glance
Chef: Shinobu Namae
For L'Effervescence, sustainability is: a guideline of humanity with intelligence, kindness and generosity.
Number of employees: 26
Main focus/projects on sustainability: Environmentally efficient products,m zero waste cooking and waste management
Awards / Recognitions in this area: L'Effervescence also won the inaugural Asia’s 50 Best Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2018