Each month we will post an excerpt from Chef’s Choice: 22 Culinary Masters Tell How Japanese Food Culture Influenced Their Careers and Cuisine to introduce you to the featured chefs. This month we’re spotlighting Nils Noren, a Swedish-born chef who was Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant Aquavit and who served as the Vice President of Restaurant Operations for the Marcus Samuelsson Group before venturing into his current role as founder/director of Absolute Culinary, a consultancy that provides advisory and support services to food and beverage professionals. Chef Nils is a member of The Gohan Society’s Board of Directors and conducted one-on-one interviews with our Chefs Scholarship candidates.
In this excerpt from Chef’s Choice, Chef Nils discusses a topic that’s timely in terms of our upcoming Chefs Scholarship trip: The trend toward non-Japanese chefs using Japanese ingredients in the kitchen.
The trend toward modern Japanese cuisine and Western-style, Japanese-inspired menus provides opportunities for chefs who know techniques for preparing raw and cooked fish and using soy, miso, mirin, and other Japanese ingredients.
Ten or 15 years ago, Japanese restaurants could get kitchen staff from Japan. Today it’s more difficult and expensive. As the trend toward Japanese-related cuisine continues, many chefs and restaurateurs will find it easier, faster, and less expensive to hire domestically trained chefs with Japanese cooking skills who speak English rather than bring traditionally trained Japanese chefs from Japan with limited English-language skills.
Another trend directly relates to the popularity of Japanese cuisine and the Japanese mindset regarding ingredients. Today, we care much more about our ingredients than we did even ten years ago. Many customers are willing to pay extra for the highest quality ingredients. As chefs and consumers, we care more about what’s in our food products. For the longest time, especially in this country, the goal was to make food that was cheaper and lasted longer. That was the most important goal. If the taste wasn’t so good, it didn’t matter that much. We had lost the connection between where food is grown and how it ends up in its final form. Now, we have reversed that trend. We’re going back to caring about where and how ingredients are grown, and we want the end result to taste good. I think, to some degree, we have the trend in Japanese cuisine to thank for that.