"@ Kitchen," which has seven locations in Tokyo, is a shared kitchen-style restaurant that rents out kitchens to talented young chefs and restaurants for zero initial cost, rent, and utilities, and serves the chefs' original cuisine. Together with Megumi Saka, founder of "@ Kitchen", we interviewed Chef Shogo Osanai, who will be opening a French bistro called "Le Défi Osanai" at the Aoyama location, and Chef Makoto Kawamata, who will be opening a canelé specialty store "Canelé de CHIANTI" at the Nihonbashi and Shibuya locations. With @ Kitchen's support, we will explore the vision of these young chefs who continue to take on new challenges on a daily basis.
I felt first-hand the hurdles of opening a restaurant in Tokyo.
Why did you decide to use @ Kitchen to prepare for the opening of your restaurants?
Osanai: I used to work in a high-end French restaurant and I was planning on going to France, but I had to give that up because of the coronavirus pandemic. While working as a traveling chef and looking for an opportunity to start my own business, I learned about @ Kitchen, which would allow me to open a restaurant with zero initial cost.
In the future, I will challenge myself to establish a new French style that is completely unique to me in order to open a full-fledged independent restaurant of my own. One such challenge was to start serving French courses in a parfait style.
Kawamata: I already run an Italian restaurant and a canelé store in Niigata, but I was anxious to expand into Tokyo, so I opened a canelé store at @ Kitchen as part of a test marketing effort.
When I actually took on the challenge, I realized that although Tokyo has a large market size and inbound users, I could compete adequately in terms of the content and quality of the food and service.
Ms. Saka, what is your thought process behind the management of @ Kitchen?
Saka: @ Kitchen is operated with the hope that it will be a provide a place for those in the food and beverage industry from various positions and perspectives, such as the two of you, to climb up to the next stage of their careers. My hope is that this will lead to a Japan where young chefs can challenge themselves more freely, without being constrained by the risks of opening their own restaurants.
For example, from a global perspective, Japanese food culture is something to be proud of, and there are now many Japanese restaurants overseas. However, most of the people who run these restaurants are from overseas, and the percentage of Japanese managers is only about 5%. It would be interesting if we could contribute to the development of more and more talented people who can increase the appeal of Japanese food overseas and inbound, while at the same time protecting what needs to be protected in the Japanese culinary industry.
The food in Tokyo is fascinating. But there are also challenges that must be addressed.
What are your thoughts on the appeal of the food in Tokyo?
Osanai: Tokyo is an amazing city where food cultures from all over the world come together. One of my goals is to offer reasonably priced, casual French cuisine in Tokyo.
Kawamata: Tokyo has way more restaurants compared to the rural areas and each offers such a high level of quality, so I believe the most appealing thing about Tokyo is that it is easy to find a good place to eat. Although there are good restaurants in rural areas, they are often scattered throughout the region. Furthermore, if people with a strong sense of determination like Mr. Osanai here could open many restaurants that are tasty but moderately priced, it would help to brush up the industry as a whole.
On the other hand, are there any areas where you feel there are challenges?
Kawamata: It would be nice to see more value placed on the chef's skills. Rather than evaluating the cost ratio of ingredients at something like 30%, if the chef's skills are excellent, customers will probably be satisfied even if the cost ratio is 10% or 5%. I believe that this will raise the status of chefs here and increase the number of young people who want to become chefs, and as a result, it will help raise the level of food in Tokyo and in Japan.
Saka: In the Japanese culinary industry, there is a a slight tendency to be closed-minded about passing on skills to others. I think it would be interesting if we could be more open about this and spread the appeal of Japanese food to the rest of the world. As one of such attempts, @ Kitchen has started offering "sushi making" experience for inbound visitors at its Asakusa store.
How do you perceive the concept of "serving food in Tokyo"?
Kawamata: There are many "foodies" in Tokyo who have a deep knowledge of cuisine, so the chefs must match their skills and knowledge about food to meet the demands of their customers. So, it is necessary to be aware of the need to constantly improve oneself. However, the same holds true in rural areas, and without such awareness, restaurants in such areas will continue to go under
Osanai: On the other hand, there are aspects that are very challenging that are unique to Tokyo. When you decide to try a new style of cuisine or a new type of business, it is difficult to do so in rural areas, but it is easier to be accepted in Tokyo.
I am currently working on a fusion style of kushiyaki (Japanese style skewered and grilled dishes) and French cuisine, which I plan to offer to customers as an exclusive menu item at the Tokyo Tokyo Delicious Museum (TTDM). I am very confident in this new style of cuisine, which combines French flavors and ingredients with the interesting appearance of kushiyaki dishes, and I hope many people will enjoy it.
Kawamata: I will be serving wasanbon (fine-grained Japanese sugar) canelés as a limited menu item at TTDM. This choice was made with overseas customers in mind, but I want them to experience the rich, deep flavor of the fine, delicious sugar that you can only find in Japan.
Having a vision leads to gaining the support of your customers.
Finally, can you tell us your outlook for the future?
Osanai: My number one goal is to open a "Grande Maison," a Michelin 3-star French restaurant, in my hometown of Hiroshima. To do so, I believe I need to first build a foundation in Tokyo and raise my reputation as a chef. I would also like to fulfill my dream of one day opening a restaurant in France.
Kawamata: As I mentioned at the beginning, my immediate goal is to bring my restaurant to Tokyo, but to be even more specific, I want to make it a restaurant that is awarded Michelin stars every year. My restaurant has been selected by Michelin in Niigata, but my goal is for it to become a restaurant that can continue to grow in Tokyo, where there are many competitors.
Furthermore, in the future, I plan to expand the business to cover the primary-level industry to the sixth-level industry. An example would be to collaborate with people in the primary-level industry who grow high-quality crops but struggle to turn them into products, and to develop and sell processed products. I believe that if my restaurant is able to obtain a Michelin star, I will be able to use its name value to expand our sales channels.
Saka: There are many delicious cuisines in the world, but I believe that a chef's personal vision and story are important to survive among them in the future. As a trend in today's world, we are now in an era where people are willing to pay for a chef's vision in order to support them, like in the case of crowdfunding.
As someone who came from the IT industry, my fundamental desire is not to do something with @ Kitchen, but to release a service that is needed in the world. From this perspective, Japanese food culture is a strong content as viewed from the rest of the world, so I would like to continue promoting it to the world, and I would be happy if there are people in the food and beverage industry who share this same viewpoint.