Yoshi Tokuyoshi: the cuisine of cultural fusion guided by originality and harmony.
Commixture. Yoshi Tukuyoshi’s cuisine stands out because it is imbued with cultural contamination. Italy and Japan blend harmoniously in a cuisine that respects local Italian products, using Japanese techniques. Fusion? Absolutely not, it is a contaminated cuisine, Yoshi specifies. Japanese naturalized Italian; he finds in the Bel Paese the road to professional success: first under the wing of Massimo Bottura at the Osteria Francescana, and then he takes flight alone with his eponymous restaurant.
He attended the hotel school in Japan and began to cook in several Italian restaurants in Tokyo. In 2005 he chose Italy to close the circle of the gastronomic experience. Still, he didn’t know he would stay there: from 2005 to 2014 with Massimo Bottura, then 2015 sees him embark on the adventure of his first restaurant and 2019 with his second, Alter Ego, in Tokyo. In both, success is assured: one star each during the first year of opening.
Today the restructuring of the Italian one will soon see the soft opening on February 4th and the actual opening on February 10th.
Was there a reason why you chose Italy?
Yes, because in Japan I was doing Italian cuisine, so I wanted to learn directly in Italy. At first, I wanted to have an experience and then go back to Japan to open my restaurant, but then I stayed because I had the great opportunity to work at the Osteria Francescana and in those years Bottura said he wanted to be the first in the world and I trusted him. Then I decided that I wanted to go my own way.
I also chose Italy for its products, because in Japan, when I came back to cook with my family or have dinner with four hands, I couldn’t do the same cuisine with Japanese products; they didn’t have the same result in terms of products.
What can you say was the greatest lesson you learned from Massimo Bottura?
Originality. Massimo always told me that originality is the thing that tells you more than a dish: this means that when you do something, it is your work of art. You must always know how to explain why, how you made a dish, and what raw material you used to enhance the taste. Explaining to the customer is essential because you are the only person that can tell your work. He says that a painter, when he paints a painting, contextualizes it before getting to work by giving it a sense of why he is doing it. So now my kitchen has to start with an idea, not the ingredients.
How would you define the philosophy of your restaurant?
At first, we thought of the idea of the restaurant as a contaminated Italian cuisine: it’s a cuisine that mixes two cultures and makes another kind of cooking: using Italian ingredients, but with Japanese techniques. Now the contamination is widespread, there are no more borders, but surely, we will have more and more personalized kitchens (by Yoshi, Niko Romito, etc.); the important thing is not to forget your identity. For me, however, it remains a Japanese Italian cuisine.
Is there a word you’d use to define the soul of your kitchen?
It’s a harmonious kitchen. We make a combination called soup pairing: for each dish, we bring an accompanying soup to sip it together with the dish. For example, we make a veal tongue in green sauce, but instead of putting potatoes as a side dish, we make potato soup so that you can taste it, but it is less heavy. The concept of harmony lies in this idea. We have, therefore, created an idea of cooking that has its foundation in the thought of harmony and balance.
Do you think yours is also a cuisine of cultural integration? Many people today break down cultural walls through the kitchen…
Today, however, many do it only through the use of some “exotic” ingredients such as soy or miso and using them, they believe they are making a contaminated kitchen. To make a contaminated kitchen, you have to respect the ingredients of the country where you are, using different techniques, not produced. We try to use ingredients as Italian as possible, maybe adding rice or techniques. Fusion is when you mix ingredients from different cultures, the contamination is a different thing. Now, in practice, what I don’t want to use in my kitchen is dashi, miso, soy sauce, wasabi, yuzu. That’s 5 Japanese condiments that I don’t use anymore. Now we are making miso made by us with lentils, soy sauce with duck, deer meat dashi… all products of Japanese origin but with Italian products.
What is the message you want to convey to the customer when he enters your restaurant and eats your food?
First of all, to approach our restaurant knowing that this is not Italian cuisine. Then live it as an experience: like going to the cinema, for example. You know when you leave the cinema, and you feel like a superhero? Or when you leave the museum and you feel a little more cultured? That’s the extra value I’d like to convey. And the bottom line is that I want them to be okay. In the starred restaurants there’s always the idea that you go out with hunger and then you have to order a pizza, but in mine, it’s the opposite, sometimes people can’t finish the dishes – he says laughing.
The issue of sustainable and small producers is becoming more and more important. How is your approach?
Working with sustainable small producers, in my opinion, it is fundamental, and we don’t say anything about this, because I think it is normal. Because if you don’t, what do you do? If you have to choose the raw material, choose the best one. That’s why you make the customer payback.
All the products we choose are Italian and the best we can find investing a lot in the producers we work with.
Is there a dish that defines you, the one of your heart?
There are many. For example, one is the pizza snack; it’s a snack that arrives at the beginning, with polenta and rice and the topping of the pizza capricciosa. Or the Diotako: a fish print. It was initially made by the fisherman to remind him of the prey he had just caught. We made the fish in the drawn print.
What’s your vision of waste? Do you make any?
We eat the waste; I don’t like giving them to the customer. What we’re doing now is a broth with the vegetable scraps, as if to make the caciucco, let’s say ours is a vegetable scrap that we make go on for two days. So it is reduced as much as possible, becoming a soup and we give it as a welcome tea.
What are the fundamental values that must be there to make teamwork in the kitchen?
We are 13 people; we assume that a place that works for everyone does not exist. What I am doing every day with everyone is talking. The important thing is to know what a person wants to do in a restaurant and not play a particular role, and if you do it well I’ll pay for it. For me, work means following the rules within a team. This is very important.
What advice would you give today to a young chef who wants to open his restaurant?
Don’t lie to the customer. Be honest and pass your identity on to the customer.
Do you think there is a correlation between food and climate change? Can you make choices at the table, can you educate the customer to make choices?
For a restaurant, it isn’t very easy to educate the customer also because raw materials and staff cost more. For me the choice of a restaurant will become less and less, there will be fewer things, but they will be done well. Educating the customer is also about getting them used to not eating the same things every day.
What do you think about the world of gastronomy today?
Where it’s going, I don’t know. I think that having a restaurant isn’t easy today, low and high catering today works, but the average doesn’t make money. It takes a lot of originality and creativity to work today. Surely by mixing genres, the kitchen starts to have much more value. Traditions don’t have to change, but by doing something new, we hope they can become future traditions.