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Known as much for his dedication to sustainability and the natural environment, as he is for his fine French-inspired Japanese food, Yoshihiro Narisawa is widely regarded as one of the world’s most exciting chefs.
He spent eight years learning his craft in Europe alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, before returning to Tokyo to embark on a gastronomic project that continues to evolve and surprise.
His eponymous restaurant in Tokyo places a firm emphasis on natural ingredients and their relationship with the local landscape. And thanks to innovative dishes such as ‘soil soup’ (full recipe here) and ‘water salad’ it has won two Michelin stars, and been voted the best restaurant in Asia.
As a young chef in Europe you had esteemed mentors in Frédy Girardet, Joel Robuchon and Paul Bocuse. How important were they in shaping your outlook as a chef?
I got to know various great European chefs from the end of ‘80s until the ‘90s. Of course, Frédy Girardet, Joel Robuchon and Paul Bocuse, but also Gualtiero Marchesi and Ezio Santin of Antica Osteria Del Ponte in Italy. There were many chefs in Germany and Belgium who used local products and ingredients to create dishes that could only come from their local area. In that time each chef prepared very characteristic dishes. They expressed their personality and the identity of their local area. This influenced me a lot. I could say that I also got a lot of influence from chefs like Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Bras, who were actively doing great work at that moment and are still doing so today.
Last year you were on the final judging panel for the competition, how impressed were you with the young talent on show?
The thing that most impressed me was their passion for cooking.
A lucky young chef will be looking to you for inspiration – what inspired you to become a chef?
I grew up in an environment where food was served. I liked to watch people having fun with smile on their face when they were eating the bread and cakes made by my father. I got an interest in creating such a gastronomic environment by myself. This was my motivation.
Your food is known for its experimentation; how important is it to encourage young chefs to experiment?
My food is more about the natural environment rather than experimentation. In reality, I go to the fields, forests, mountains and sea, and get my inspiration and feeling from nature. First I imagine how these environments make me feel, and then I organise my thinking to create my dishes. Imagining and thinking with five senses are the most important for me.
Why is it important for young chefs to learn about sustainability and the natural environment?
Chefs always deal with ingredients. All ingredients are brought by nature. Chefs cannot do anything without ingredients. To keep eating the ingredients from nature five, 10 and 100 years in the future, we should think about the natural environment. Before losing everything, it’s necessary to learn and think. I think that something will change if each of the young chefs realises the importance of this idea.
Do you have any new and exciting projects you’d like to tell us about?
As I’m Japanese and my restaurant is now in Japan, I’m searching and observing my local area more profoundly in order to discover more about the culture of the place. Then I express it in my dishes. In the future, I’d like to go further afield from Japan to think about food with a global vision. I’d like to carry on with my project so that people in fifty or a hundred years time can experience the happiness of eating.
If you could go back in time and be a young chef again, what one thing would you change?
As I did the best I could do, I don’t regret anything, but I would have liked to spend more time travelling in places such as South America, Africa and Asia.
What are your hopes for the future of gastronomy?
As it’s called gastronomy, we should pursue “deliciousness”. The “deliciousness” brings the happiness of eating. For this it’s indispensable to keep the natural environment protected. I’m interested in how we can face up to environmental pollution that is actually getting worse and worse. We need to realise that we can only eat delicious foods if the natural environment is fine.