Japanese web magazine, Global manager feature an interview with me. My friend translate in English.
Japanese Chef Elevates Washoku Worldwide
A multi-talented chef in UKspreads the spirit of Kaiseki and lifts Japanese cuisine to another dimension.
Yoshinori Ishii is the charismatic executive chef of UMU restaurant in London.
One wonders how he might convey Japanese cuisine to locals who have had no previous knowledge of the subject. Yoshinori, who learnt Kaiseki culture in Kyoto and later worked overseas in Switzerland, the US, and England, explains the concept of this work, and his passion for Japanese cuisine.
Profile of Yoshinori Ishii:
Executive chef at UMU, London
After graduating from the Abeno Cooking School in Osaka in 1990, he worked for the headquarters of Kyoto Kitcho, Arashiyama till he reached the position of sous-chef in 1998. While he studied English, he was engaged as a gardener at Seiho Takeuchi Museum and also started a catering service. In 1999 Yoshi was appointed as the embassy chef for the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. In 2002 he moved to New York on the same mission. In 2005, at the same time as the ambassador returned to Japan, he heard that his former horticulture mentor, Mr Masataka Higuchi, had been injured, and Yoshi decided to go back to Kyoto to support his farm. In 2006 he returned to the US to oversee the special course menu at Morimoto restaurant. He has received many awards including the Rising Star Chef. In 2010, Yoshi moved to London as Executive chef at UMU restaurant.
Being a chef has made my dream come true
The Japanese restaurant UMU is in the heart of London in Mayfair. Yoshinori Ishii works as the Executive Chef of the restaurant.
He aimed to become a chef when he was a high school student and at that time dreamt of working abroad. After graduating from cooking school in Japan, he started his career at a long-established restaurant “Kyoto Kitcho” Arashiyama headquarters. There he was promoted to sous-chef, working there for ten years. He got a job as a chef at the Japanese ambassador’s residence and worked in Geneva and New York. He has held his current position at UMU since 2010.
“I loved creating things myself through painting and sculpture when I was a student. My love of cooking came from the idea that I wanted to prepare fish with my own hands. At the same time, I had a dream of living abroad through using my own specific skills. When I graduated from school, I chose to work as a chef to enable me to follow my dream.”He made his dream come true by working as a chef at the ambassador’s residence and he enjoyed working overseas at last. However, looking back over those six years, he thinks that he was supported yet confined in his position, and something was missing. His real challenge started from that point. He wanted to make use of his experience. When he was trying to get a visa in the USA, Masaharu Morimoto, known as an Iron Chef, made him an offer. At chef Morimoto’s restaurant in New York, he was put in charge of the special course meals. Gradually he began to distinguish himself and was awarded Rising Star Chef and other accolades.
Three years later, he gained his US resident visa and he was looking for investors for his own project in order to move his career to the next stage, when he got the offer to become head chef of UMU restaurant in London, through his friend from Switzerland.
The art of handling fish passed onto the Celtic fishermen
After living there for seven years he left New York, and moved to a new world with lots of expectation. However, he was surprised by the difference between London and New York. The prime focus of dishes at UMU restaurant is Kaiseki. However, fresh fish, which is the most important element, could not be easily sourced.“In New York, fish is sent by air cargo three times a week from the Tsukiji fish market in Japan. In addition they have local fish in New York, so I could work in a similar environment. However, London was completely different. They receive fish which wouldn’t be eaten even in staff meals in New York. I tried all kinds of middle suppliers, and I actually visited ports, but I couldn’t get fish with which I was happy. In fact, in England they don’t usually bring ice to fishing boats. In short, fish is taken from the boat as it is, and ice is added at the port. The fish is stored in the fridge, and brought to the fish market when the price has risen. The old stock goes first and fresher fish later. All middle suppliers work in the same way, so by the time we received the fish it was far from fresh.”
|At pop up restaurant at Frieze Master art show|
Yoshinori looked for fishermen who customarily bring ice to the fishing boats. And finally he came to hear that there were Cornishmen of Celtic descent at the tip of the Cornish peninsula who treat fish carefully. Whenever he had time off, he drove for eight hours to build a relationship with them.
“Although they treated fish very carefully, they have no knowledge of Japanese cuisine. They don’t have a transport system like we have in Japan, either. However, we can make an effort to bring the logistics closer to that of Japan.”
These problems decided him to teach Ikejime, the traditional Japanese method of fish preparation, and even showed the higher technique called Shinkei Jime. Yoshi was finally able to request that they perform Ikejime. He wanted to show them that all fish are treated with such care in Japan. Currently, Yoshi gets a call from the ship about the fish caught that day, and he chooses and orders the fish for the menu for the following day. The consistent communication between Yoshi and the fishermen made this possible. ‘Give 20, and get 10 returned’ is the philosophy Yoshi acquired living overseas.
With head chef Masato Nishihara who was executive chef at Shojin cuisine restaurant NY. We worked together in Kitcho Kyoto long time. We pursue best created Kaiseki restaurant outside of Japan together.