Inspiring Places

The First Time Chef Pierre Gagnaire Saw Tokyo

French chef Pierre Gagnaire recalls his first impressions of Tokyo and its philosophical approach to food

My first introduction to Japan came in the form of a book: Food Fantasy of the Hôtel de Mikuni, published in the ’80s by Kiyomi Mikuni, a famous chef from Japan who worked all over Europe. I loved this book. To me this book of Western food represented the perfect link between the Occident and Japan: the food photography, the presentation.

I’ve always understood that with food you can create links with people, you can create emotion. When I arrived in Japan, I immediately felt that food was something very important. There was a philosophical approach to the food, like poetry. It’s not just about eating to fuel your body; it’s about connecting with nature and the universe.

I learnt many things from Japanese cuisine: the way to cook fish, the way to organise a plate – the art of food, and the importance of stock. For a lot of dishes, the most crucial element is the broth, whether it’s with seaweed, chicken or fish. It’s the key to Japanese food.

Tokyo itself was another world – a bit like Hong Kong. Everything was so different. It was refreshing.

It’s the same now – when you walk down a narrow street, you discover small shops and an incredible mix of past and future. That’s the charm of the place; there’s always something to discover. In Tokyo, you could eat out every day for two years and each time you’d find a new restaurant. It’s fantastic.

Pierre Gagnaire is a French chef with 23 restaurants around the world, including the two-Michelin-starred Pierre at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

Credit: Matthew Buchanan/Unsplash
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