Posted on: April 25, 2024 Posted by: Comments: 0

Our interview with Takayoshi Watanabe, a Japanese chef, being the third generation of a cookery family, specifically focusing on fish and seafood, featuring sushi as the main dish.

The Fashiongton Post: What initially drew you to specialize in sushi, and how does the art of sushi-making differ from other forms of Japanese cuisine?

Takayoshi Watanabe: My parents owned a sushi restaurant when I was a child, so I entered the sushi industry without any doubts about taking over the family business. Sushi has always been an essential part of my life. Sushi is prepared right in front of the customer, and performing the final finishing touches in front of the visitors of my restaurant demands careful preparation, which also requires some technical aspects to know. Our customers enjoy watching the movements of the chef and the way he handles the ingredients, creating a unique performance where no compromises are allowed. It is similar to what is common for a sommelier in the wine industry, when it’s important to communicate with the audience in an exciting and easy-to-understand manner.

F.P.: Any specific philosophy or principles behind the traditional Japanese cuisine art which you follow and why?

T.W.: I consider my sushi to be a traditional Japanese art. The poses and movements I use when serving sushi to customers are inspired by Kabuki, a classical form of Japanese theatre, and I am often using those supple movements of a Japanese dance. I have succeeded in incorporating long-standing Japanese traditions into my sushi, showcasing it in an experiential entertainment way.

F.P.: What are some common misconceptions people have about Japanese cuisine?

T.W.: This actually can be noticed not only in Japanese cuisine but in other cuisines as well now. With the rapid popularity of the internet and social networks these days, it has become easier to obtain the information online. so it may not be difficult to recreate the dishes based on recipes. However, I am a professional sushi chef, and from a sushi chef’s perspective I can assure you it is not that easy, because there are so many steps behind the scene, involved in each intermediate process when working with the ingredients, such as the process of selecting the ingredients, preparing them, applying salt, cook technologies, etc. Moreover, it always changes depending on the season, even if you use the same recipe. I think the taste of the final product will change depending on the chef who has 1, 5, or 10 years of cooking experience.

F.P.: What role does tradition play in sushi-making, and how do you innovate while respecting centuries-old techniques?

T.W.: I believe that sushi has always been associated with traditions. For example, such techniques as using rice mixed with vinegar, salt, and sugar, using wasabi, and pickling fish – all these are traditional techniques that have been around for a long time, in order to safely provide food to customers. And with the emerging innovative storage and transportation techniques, the traditions are successfully complemented.

F.P.: What role do seasonal ingredients play in Japanese cuisine, and how do you ensure freshness and quality in your dishes?

T.W.: The change of seasons is very important in Japanese cuisine. Spring is the season of cherry blossoms and wild plants, and you can bring in the breath of life into your dishes. In summer, the greenery becomes even thicker, so you can create a cooler touch to the dish, and the fall season is known here as the season of a good appetite because it brings a wide variety of ingredients available. The winter season is cold, however the fish becomes more fatty, which makes a positive effect on its taste. With the above in mind, I would say the Japanese cuisine is closely related to each season, and Japanese people love to experience the seasons through food.

F.P.: Can you describe your creative process when developing new dishes or menus?

T.W.: I believe that what I have learned in life is reflected in my cooking, which is shaped by the training I had when I was young, and those techniques I acquired at the end of my training. I also learn when visiting other restaurants, as well as interacting with other chefs through their dishes and eating the local cuisine of the places I visit, which I later incorporate into my own cooking.

F.P.: Can you share your philosophy on balancing the flavors and textures of sushi ingredients within a single piece or roll?

T.W.: Sushi is made by hand, combining rice, wasabi, toppings and soy sauce. These become “layers” and the dish is not complete until the customer eats it. Shari (sushi rice) is the most important ingredient in sushi, and we always pay close attention to its origin and cooking method. I believe that rice, wasabi, soy sauce, and toppings are universal and never change, while fish changes with the seasons. This is one of the reasons why I prefer to assemble the final dish in front of the customers!

F.P.: What is your favorite knife brand from those you prefer to work with on a daily basis?

T.W.: This is my own knife brand called “TERUKNIVES”. In the past, I used cheap knives for many years, but by showing off sushi, I started paying attention to tools. However, I had a hard time finding the knife I had in mind. Thus, “TERUKNIVES” brand was born through a joint development with a famous swordsmith in Osaka. I believe that using the knives which are as sharp as Japanese samurais’ swords improve the experience-based entertainment.

F.P.: What are some essential tools and techniques unique to Japanese cuisine that aspiring chefs should master?

T.W.: I would advise not just learning the Japanese cuisine itself but also the history and culture of Japan through cooking. Cooking techniques can be learned through daily practice, but awareness is also important when learning about history and culture. Don’t forget this too.

F.P.: What do you believe sets apart an extraordinary sushi dining experience from a merely good one, and how do you strive to achieve that in your own practice?

T.W.: My restaurant “TERUZUSHI” has been created with that thought in mind, so you would enjoy not only with one but with all five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The restaurant is located in Kitakyushu, which is the northern part of the Kyushu region, about 1000 km away from Tokyo. Although it’s difficult to access, unlike Tokyo or Osaka, we now have customers from around the world who enjoy the excitement of traveling along the way and getting here to try my sushi and see my performance.

F.P.: How do you approach the concept of umami in your cooking, and what ingredients do you often use to enhance it?

T.W.: Kitakyushu, where my restaurant is located, is close to the sea and mountains, and has an abundance of ingredients. Seafood is particularly rich here because the shellfish is grown on seaweeds, thus becoming larger in size and having a stronger umami flavor. I only use ingredients from our local area where I was born and raised, and umami of course contributes to improved taste.

F.P.: Your piece of advice to young chefs and culinary or fashion inspired readers of The Fashiongton Post?

T.W.: As I like to say: “Success is only possible if you keep on trying”. You may face setbacks and obstacles many times in the process of achieving your dreams and goals. So, you just need to take a little break, spend some relaxing time with your precious family and friends, eat some delicious food, get a good sleep, and then try again. Take it one step at a time!

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