Andrea Sacchi on The Food In Japan
Andrea is no stranger to Japan. After leaving his native Italy in the early ninties he spent two seasons in Nagano at the Hotel Grand Phenix, a Japanese, boutique mountain resort designed for the Olympic games. After leaving Nagano he spent the next four years traveling the globe. Experiencing the food and cultures of New Zealand, Singapore, Korea and South Africa. At the end of 2000 through a series of connections Andrea heard of a possible opportunity to return to Japan. In January 2001 he landed the position of Western Chef at The Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo.
Like many of the hotel's expatriates Andrea lives close to the Four Seasons. His journey to work is a simple bike ride rather than squashing on to the Japanese subway system. And although the normal workweek takes the form of six days, Andrea's schedule is pretty flexible "if you are busy you in, if you not busy then you can take time off, the famous unwritten rule."
His kitchen (the Western Kitchen) is a twenty-four hour operation. Producing food for Il Teatro the hotel's Italian styled main dining room, the casual French Bistro and Room Service. The majority of his clientele are Japanese, many of who prefer to eat multi course tasting menus rather than a la carté.
How to deal with the multitude of Japanese customs and levels of Politeness?
"Ha, this is a good one. Japanese are very weary about the formality of things; they will not confront you or directly say an unkind word. In fact the word no does not exist in Japanese, there is a form of negation, which is more polite and less, direct.
This is the second time that I have worked in Japan, I spent a couple of years in Nagano Prefecture in '93 and manage to learn the basics of Japanese customs. I am now able to have very basic conversation with my customers. I have learnt a lot about what I am supposed to say and express and what not. The kitchen is a different story, here is pretty much a group effort in everything you do, everything we do is not a one man decision but has to be agreed on by all the culinary team. In those meetings you have to be careful how you express your ideas and learn fast that when the F&B is telling you that buying those new plate could be difficult, it really means no!"
Advice for a chef, that wishes to work in Japan?
Japan is an amazing country with a very extended food culture and a set of tradition and custom that need daily attention. It is not an easy country to work in, the language barrier is very strong and Japanese are historically cautious about foreigners. So set in to learn as much of the language as you can, be patient! You are in for daylong meetings and very different points of view. Focus on delivering the best product and be open-minded, put on the side what you know and get set to fit into a different reality. You'll walk away with a great experience.
Andrea Sacchi on The Food In Japan
Food and Japan or more precisely food and Tokyo: a perfect mathematical equation, as one does not exist without the other. There is not any other country in the world, not even the "live to eat" Italians, that are so obsessed with food as is the archipelago of the rising sun.
With more than 200 magazines on the topic and an endless number of restaurants of any kind, Japan shines under the spotlight of the food business. There is not a single television program, prime time or not, that does not have a cooking showcase, nor an outside reporter storming the restaurants in town in search of the latest food of the day. Whether it is a television celebrity, a housewife or a professional chef all are summating upon the cameras in the name of food, to showcase their skill, their favorite dishes or simply their newly discovered dining spot in town.
Japan produces a number of great television-cooking programs such as the Iron chef - a battle zone for local and expatriate chefs who compete in western, Japanese or Chinese food. There are also some more crazy shows like the eating contest, which are so popular here that they have even managed to put it on a global scale with international competitors and a world tour.
Publications of every kind storm the massive book and magazine stores and more than likely any Expatriate Chef working in one of the big names in town will be found featured. Be prepared for the photo shoot to become a regular part of your weekly routine in the kitchen, at least 4-5 photo shoots a month, either for magazine, TV or other promotional arenas.
Fancy any kind of food? Pick up the phone and a storm of scooters will deliver anything from sushi to Thai to Italian. No problem! Fancy a french crepes or a 7-course dinner, they'll be on your door in 30 minutes in any part of town. Make sure that your Japanese is up to speed you do not want to order a sushi set and end up with a Korean kalbi or some Naan and Tikka.
But lets get down to more detail on the "real" catering business.
Lets start from the bottom, the inexpensive so called fast food, an array of places are to be found in any corner of the city, subways included, not counting the burger places, there are revolving sushi bars, ramen shops not bigger than the average bathroom in Europe, cafes and any kind of food broken down to a chain of single item restaurant, designed for lunch in and out in an-average of 10 minutes, many of them offer only stand up eating capabilities, designed for the Japanese office worker with limited time.
Middle of the range restaurants and theme restaurants are extremely popular right now. With the economy a little shaky, Japan is not anymore the land of the 1000 Dollar bill for two, more reasonably priced restaurants have opened offering a great quality price ratio so as to keep everybody happy.
In the same price bracket - the themed-restaurants, which are marketed to the 20-30 year old age group, ramge from the gothic style, to the african/arabian experience or the Maya feast. Since role playing and custom are very dear to the young these places are proving successful and since their lifespan is usually short, 2-3 years, there is always something new coming up.
The big names of hospitality are all in town offering the very high end product and service that Japanese people love to have. Each hotel offers a diverse product and normally carries from 6 to 12 different outlets, the choice is vast and the prices are what you'll expect and more.
One of the luxuries to be a chef in Japan is the produce that you get to work with. Every time a supplier arrives it's like Santa has landed, such high quality and care taken is difficult to find in other places. When the veggies arrive and they are all the same exact size mostly individually wrapped, shipped in from all over the world, the seafood, custom cleaned and cut as you asked for in a layer of ice protected wood-paper, you know you could only be in Tokyo. Every kind of seafood you can imagine lands here. Japan consumes one third of the worldwide fishing quota so you can image the joy of a 5 o'clock in the morning trip to Tsukigi (Tokyo's main fish and veggies market) and if you had any doubt on what to use on your next a la carte, well you'll exit from here with more ideas than you need.
Of course the expatriate life here is not all roses but you can take out some amazing experiences to carry with you when you fly off from the land of the Rising Sun.
And if you feel stressed out and need to let it all out let me suggest you a couple of places outside from the usual Roppongi crowd.
Head Down to The Fiddler in Takadanobaba, for good beers great live music and a bunch of great people or pop in at Ben's café for good coffee,wines and more….
Checkout they websites: www.thefiddler.com and: www.benscafe.com these guys make life happier in the big maki wrap that's Tokyo.
That's all for now anything particular you'll want to know just let me know and I'll be off searching for you.