Kagurazaka is known as a place where small-scale, high-quality restaurants are clustered in Tokyo. Yet Kagurazaka Ishikawa stands out among its competitors in Kagurazaka. What attracts particular attention in the culinary world is not only the honour of receiving Michelin's three-star rating, but also the fact that this has been maintained for 12 years. We talked to the restaurant’s owner, Hideki Ishikawa, about his management philosophy and training of young chefs.
Hideki Ishikawa, 55 years old, was born in 1965 in Niigata prefecture. After graduating from high school, Mr. Ishikawa got a job at a wholesaler of Western tableware. Moving to Tokyo at the age of 20, he entered the world of Japanese cuisine at Harajuku's Sakura. From the age of 25, he trained in Aoyama’s Hozumi for 5 years and Nogizaka’s Kamiya for a total of 8 years. After that, he served as a chef for 8 years in Saitama and Yaesu. In 2003, at the age of 38, he opened his own restaurant Kagurazaka Ishikawa. In 2009, Kagurazaka Ishikawa was awarded three stars in the Michelin Guide Tokyo. Later Kohaku (2008) and Lotus (2009) opened as sister restaurants. In 2017, he supervised the opening of Nanpeidai restaurant. The plates are selected based on his own sensibility regardless of the artist's name, and he also focuses on wine.
In Japanese cuisine, not only is the food important, but also the interior of the restaurant, the arrangement of flowers, and the vessels chosen. What are your thoughts on these?
First of all, I think it is highly important for customers to be able to come to our restaurant and relax. We are trying to create a relaxing interior setting that makes you feel as if you are relaxing in a hot spring.
Is there anything you would like to convey to your customers through cooking?
When you eat food, your facial expression changes. The protagonist is neither the chef nor the restaurant, but the customer. It's important that the customer can taste our food and have a relaxing time. We welcome feedback from the customer, and strive to improve our cooking constantly based on their feedback. At the end of the day we want to provide customers with cuisine they want to eat, not just the cuisine that a chef wants to cook.
Your company is also putting great effort into training young chefs. Please give us some advice for the younger generation.
I think it's important to have fun at work. However, if you don't learn to do the hard things first and finish them, you won't be able to feel happiness. All of the world's top chefs start with hard training. Enduring this hard training is very important. In my case, I entered this world but not because I liked cooking, so I almost decided to quit many times along the way. However, as I continued to put up with the difficulties of training, I gradually began to receive positive feedback from customers, and I was encouraged by that and gradually became fond of cooking. I think that there are unknown opportunities that will arise in the future by continuing to endure rather than quitting immediately because something is difficult.
In the management of the Ishikawa Group, which has now grown to four sites, please tell us what you place most importance on.
In my opinion, the era of "absolute masters" is over, and the culinary world is entering an era of individuality. I manage only Kagurazaka Ishikawa, and at the other restaurants I trust the chef there and leave it to him 100%. If you instruct or interfere by insisting "this way is better", the chef's individuality will disappear. It is important to build a relationship of trust with the staff over a long period of time. To lay the foundation, I try to build relationships while improving myself.
On the homepage of the Ishikawa group, there are pictures of employees having fun on company trips and birthday parties, and working hard on activities such as flower arranging. If the connections and the trust between workers deepens and the number of people who work in a happy mood increases, it will spread throughout the restaurant, creating a cozy atmosphere for the customer. No matter how famous and delicious the food is, I don't want to go to a restaurant with a tense atmosphere.
Finally, do you have any particularly impressive and inspirational experiences as a chef?
Actually, I'm a person who quickly forgets the past (laughs). Even if you get caught up in the past, you can't go back to the past, and no one knows about tomorrow. What we should face now, and what we should concentrate on most, is this moment of today. I feel that there are so many people in the world who are worried about the future, like if an earthquake might come tomorrow or if they might die from coronavirus. I used to worry like that. But at one point, we came up with the idea that "yesterday and tomorrow do not exist, only this moment exists now." I think this is the most positive and happiest way of living life.