Tokyo Tokyo Delicious Museum2023


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Chef’s Interview


Yoroniku is a restaurant that offers a new generation of meat kappo cuisine that has overturned the concept of yakiniku and established a new trend. As part of the Tokyo Tokyo Delicious Museum 2023 chefs' interviews, we spoke with owner and chef Hideyuki Kuwahara, who not only has an insatiable curiosity about wagyu beef, but also has the unique distinction of being a DJ. We asked him about how he came up with the idea of continuing to evolve yakiniku and his thoughts on the food scene in Tokyo, where inbound use continues to grow.

The idea of the restaurant came from my imagination. We are just remixing good-tasting food.

Where did Yoroniku get the idea to evolve the concept of yakiniku in Tokyo?

Well, I myself am not originally a chef or anything, but someone who has been involved in music as a DJ. I always liked walking and eating, but DJs listen to a lot of different music and remix the best bits and play them for the audience. We are just doing that exact same thing.

As for why I chose yakiniku among the many types of cuisine out there, there is a popular yakiniku restaurant called "Jumbo," which I consider my mentor, and I loved their food so much that I used to go there 50 to 70 times a year even before I became an apprentice. Eventually, as is my habit, I began to fantasize about "how interesting it would be if this were a little more like this" and so on. I love orthodox yakiniku as well, but at that time, yakiniku had not yet evolved compared to other cuisines, so there was room for imagination. It felt like there were still so many things you could do with it.
At that time, high-end yakiniku restaurants were places that served expensive meat to customers in suits and kimonos, but there was no such thing as a yakiniku restaurant that served courses like a French restaurant. This was right around the time that luxury foreign hotels were springing up in Japan, so I took the liberty of imagining what a yakiniku restaurant would be like in such a hotel and opened the Yoroniku Aoyama branch. So, you could say that the idea of the restaurant came from my imagination.

How is the food world compared to DJing?

I get the impression that the food is more direct. Of course, when I was DJing, I did it while looking at the audience's faces, but I feel that food often resonates more directly with the brain. The moment someone puts food in their mouth, their face changes.
In terms of composition, I envision something like a Hollywood movie. There's a hook, then a climax, then another challenge to overcome, and then the gentle end credits. It is not the kind of thing where you just dump a bunch of high-end dishes one after the other. I am a restaurant owner, but I approach my work as if I were a stage actor. It's like our cuisine is a "work of art" and we are the ones performing it every day.

What do you think is the value that Yoroniku offers in Tokyo's current food scene?

I don't really think about what people around me are doing, but I really want to do something that only I can do.

In hip-hop and techno music, there were many people who created new things that had never existed before, weren't there? I love Van Halen, and there is a part of me that fantasizes about recreating what Eddie did but with yakiniku.

The world has yet to really experience truly delicious Wagyu beef.

How is the inbound traffic?

We have a really high rate of inbound customers. Over 80% of customers at the Ebisu branch are inbound visitors. We are not necessarily targeting foreigners, and we see an equal number of Japanese as well, but foreign customers are much quicker to make reservations. They make reservations immediately two months in advance when online reservations become available, so the reservation slots are inevitably filled with foreigners.

How do you think about the way people from other countries eat compared to Japanese people?

They really know their stuff. They even know the different parts of the meat.
As for recent changes, the number of customers from not only Asia but also Europe, the United States, and Australia has increased, and people are now eating beef tongue, which used to be frowned upon. This may be due to the influence of SNS which is disseminated by overseas food connoisseurs.

I want as many people in the world to know our cuisine as possible. Of course I want people to know about yakiniku itself, but I also want people to know about Wagyu beef. However, some of the Wagyu beef that is sold overseas is not the highest quality, so I would like to serve them proper Wagyu beef.
It's very unfortunate, but overseas, Wagyu beef from Australia is often better than Wagyu beef exported from Japan. I wish we could do something about it.

Wagyu beef is no longer just a Japanese product, but nowadays there is also Wagyu beef from Thailand. Have you tried eating it before?

Yes I have. It’s not bad. What's incredible about Thailand is that people with money are serious about developing it, so perhaps they will be able to develop Wagyu beef that is very tasty in the future.

How do you think restaurants in Tokyo will change in the future?

I think it will become polarized. The part of dealing with wealthy people from overseas will probably grow more and more in the future. On the other hand, I am concerned about cheap and attractive restaurant districts that are disappearing due to redevelopment. For inbound visitors, eating and drinking in atmospheric places such as the underpass in Shinbashi is also appealing. You can find buildings that are just beautiful everywhere in the world, so I would like to see places with a certain atmosphere preserved. I think that if the city becomes a place where everything looks the same, tourists will stop coming.
Also, there are restaurants overseas that have background music playing at a blaring volume, but there are no such restaurants in Tokyo, so it would be nice if those kinds of restaurants were to appear.