“This is something that always happens in the tea ceremony. It is a kind of entertainment. In the old times, there was no TV, no magazines, no newspapers, so people try to have fun in such kinds of ceremony. Mitame is not real things, it is pretend. Of course it is a kind of game, because people pay the money to come to a restaurant. It is not normal life. They come here to have fun, good conversation, good food. We should not be so strict; we have to have the same feeling with the guests and make the dishes with enjoyment,” Takagi said.
Speaking excellent English, Takagi talked volubly about the importance of the spirit of Japanese cuisine. His ability to communicate in a language other than Japanese is a powerful advantage in his mission to bring traditional Japanese food to the world.
“I think Japanese food is very special … but I cannot find real Japanese restaurants (outside Japan). It is very difficult. I am sure there are, but I have not found them … The biggest reason for this is that chefs who can do a really good job do not go there [overseas]. Things are changing now, but only gradually. Many Japanese chefs would never think to go abroad,” he said, adding that it was only with the greatest reluctance that he was relinquishing sous chef Masakazu. “It is a very difficult thing for him to go abroad. The human problem is the biggest problem in taking Japanese cuisine abroad.”
For Takagi, it is Japanese culture and spirit that make a good Japanese restaurant. Speaking of a defining moment in his development, he said: “When I was a student I went to study in London [where he studied English]. I saw Japan from the outside. I was very impressed and moved by Japanese culture. I knew many foreign friends who were patriots [of their own country], but Japanese not so much.”
In addition to his sous chef, Takagi also brought his restaurant manager over to Taipei to give a veneer of Japanese spirit to the wait staff at Ibuki. “I saw the service here is very good, but of course it is not authentic,” he said, brushing aside the embarrassed giggles of hotel PR staff. “Japanese service is very, very polite and that gives the customers a very good feeling.”
The Japanese spirit is also of supreme importance in the kitchen. Apart from some key ingredients, Takagi is happy to use local ingredients, particularly seafood, prizing freshness over faithfulness to Japanese convention. “The point is technique and heart, spirit, to make Japanese food. It is not just ingredients … If I have the spirit to make Japanese food, it will be Japanese food,” he said.