Each month in our newsletter, we 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 Chef Yosuke Suga, whose father ran the French restaurant Chez Kobe in Nagoya. After studying the French language in Lyon, Chef Yosuke worked in hotel restaurants in Japan and eventually took over Chez Kobe from his father. He worked with Joël Robuchon for a decade, serving as Executive Chef of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Tokyo and opening L’Atelier at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York. In 2014 Chef Yosuke began his own restaurant consulting business and culinary laboratory SUGALABO. Two years ago Chef Yosuke joined a dream team of chefs at Japan Air Lines, collaborating on unique First Class meals on select international flights departing Tokyo.
In this excerpt, Chef Yosuke compares Japanese and French cooking.
“How do I compare Japanese cooking and French cooking? In Japanese cuisine, we don’t use much oil or fat. With French food, we use a lot of butter, olive oil, and animal fat – I mean a lot!
“However, I do incorporate the philosophy of Japanese cuisine into my French cooking. For example, at the restaurant, we do many tastings with three or so dishes, and I try to include some kind of Japanese-influenced dish with little or no butter, cream, or fat in the ingredients. That’s how I let Japanese cuisine influence my French cooking. My food and technique [are] French, and how I work if French, but my philosophy and culture [are] Japanese, and my vision is minimalism.
“In Japan and France and in China, too, there’s a long history of cuisine. We don’t really like to try anything new, and we don’t do fusion. When I was in Japan, I never put Japanese ingredients in French cuisine. When I was a chef at the same restaurant in Tokyo, I never used Japanese ingredient because diners wanted real French food. But here in the United States, a chef is freer to experiment. Some customers and some food critics might say that what I cook here is not really French cuisine. But many guests tell me that our food tastes clean. To me, that means freshness. When customers eat high quality, fresh ingredients, it’s easier to digest their meal.
“I use Japanese ingredients in some dishes. For example, I use amadai, a Japanese fish that is similar to tilefish. I pan-fry the fish in oil with the scales left on so that the skin gets very crispy. Then I add some yuzu broth and some herbs like shiso. Because I don’t use much oil and butter, it tastes light. People think it’s Japanese cuisine, but it’s really more European. The taste is very Japanese – it’s very light and flavorful – but it’s not really Japanese cuisine.
“I also like yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus. It has a very interesting, strong flavor that is completely different from lemon or lime. I also use some kinds of pickles that you can’t find in the U.S. And I like kinome, the leaf of the prickly ash tree, whose berries are ground into shansho pepper. The leaves are used as a garnish for many Japanese dishes. Japanese chefs use it a lot because the leaves have a fresh, subtle mint flavor and a tender texture. It’s very refreshing. However, it can be challenging to use some Japanese ingredients because American customers are not familiar with their unique flavors and tastes.”
Read more about Yosuke Suga and the other chefs in Chef’s Choice: 22 Culinary Masters Tell How Japanese Food Culture Influenced Their Careers and Cuisine.
Featured image from @yosuke_suga on Instagram