Chef Kei Kobayashi is speaking his mind — something he says it took moving to France to learn.
Less than 24 hours after he became the first ever Japanese cook to win the maximum three Michelin stars in France, the phones are ringing off the hook at his Paris restaurant, Kei.
The last of the lunchtime diners are skipping out of his minimalist dining room not far from the Louvre, grinning from ear to ear.
They have just eaten a piece of history, and at 58 euros (US$63) for a set lunch, a bargain into the bag.
Kobayashi is holding forth in his clinically clean kitchen as his small team scurry around him.
“Japanese people are usually very quiet. But you cannot survive in France like that,” he said.
The dozen or so other Japanese chefs who have been making waves in the rarefied world of French haute cuisine over the last few years are usually meekness incarnate.
They bow, say a few humble halting words of thanks and are off.
Not Kobayashi. The first thing that the 42-year-old said after getting his third star was how difficult and demanding he was.
With his gelled bleached blond hair, there is something of the showman about the young blade who readily admits to driving his cooks ferociously hard.
But it was not always so, he insisted, claiming France has changed him.
‘I SAY WHAT I MEAN’
“I am direct now. Like the French, I say what I mean,” he said.
“I am a very difficult guy,” he added, as he barked out an order in his small but perfectly designed kitchen. “Working with me means lots of stress. I watch and check everything.”
“Compared to a French chef” — who are not renowned for being touchy-feely — “I am probably more difficult,” he smiled.
But Kobayashi was careful not to ruffle feathers when asked if he and other young Japanese were beating the French at their own game and in their own back garden.
“France has accepted us and given us a place, so I thank France,” he said, adding that the Japanese cooks have been trained in the French tradition for nearly 150 years.
And indeed, it was watching a documentary about the nouvelle cuisine pioneer Alain Chapel that inspired Kobayashi to follow his father — a chef specialising in traditional Japanese kaiseki cuisine — into the kitchen.
Like his compatriot Yosuke Suga — who topped the La Liste’s ranking of the world’s best restaurants this year with his tiny Tokyo table, Sugalab, and who is only a few months his senior — Kobayashi decided to learn at the feet of his French heroes.
While some French gastronomes have implied that Kobayashi’s restaurant was not quite grand enough for the culinary holy grail of three stars, even the Michelin guide’s worst enemy believes its inspectors got it right.
French chef Marc Veyrat, who lost his third star last year and took Michelin to court in the notorious “Cheddargate” case, tipped his toque to him.
“I say ‘Bravo!’,” Veyrat said. “It’s great that people like him are coming here.”
Kobayashi, who was born in Nagano, opened his Paris restaurant nine years ago with his wife Chikako after working under a series of legendary French three-star chefs including Alain Ducasse, one of his mentors.
His pastry chef Toshiya Takatsuka — who has also been making a name for himself in France — said he decided to move to Paris to work under Kobayashi after eating at Kei in 2013.
“I could immediately feel the spirit of the chef, the concentration — everything was so absolutely right,” he said.
Working with him, however, is no bed of roses, he admitted.
“He puts you under the maximum pressure. He always tells the truth, he never hides things. He says what he thinks — there is no filter,” 35-year-old Takatsuka added.
“But I think he is harder on himself than he is on others... He has thought everything through in the restaurant, as he keeps saying, it’s a theater.”
And its star is Kobayashi’s cooking, with the dining room’s sparse grey interior designed to point up his startling creations like his “Garden of crunchy vegetables” which transported the Michelin inspectors.
When asked why there were no pictures on the walls, he replied, “My cuisine provides the necessary colour.” As Kobayashi mixes the salad of up to 40 ingredients covered in a citrus mousse, “in which every spoonful has a different taste,” it’s hard to disagree.
IN 2002 Thomas Hertog received an e-mail summoning him to the office of his mentor Stephen Hawking. The young researcher rushed to Hawking’s room at Cambridge. “His eyes were radiant with excitement,” Hertog recalls. Typing on the computer-controlled voice system that allowed the cosmologist to communicate, Hawking announced: “I have changed my mind. My book, A Brief History of Time, is written from the wrong perspective.” Thus one of the biggest-selling scientific books in publishing history, with worldwide sales credited at more than 10 million, was consigned to the waste bin by its own author. Hawking and Hertog then began working on
It’s a fairly common scenario: A property has been foreclosed and sold at auction on behalf of a bank, but it remains occupied. The former owner may be refusing to leave, because he has nowhere else to go. Humans or animals may be squatting inside. Or — and this happens often enough that many foreclosure specialists have come across it — the stay-ons are gods. On June 1, 2020, ETToday reported on one such case in New Taipei City. Following the sale of a foreclosed apartment in Sinjhuang District (新莊), a second auction, to dispose of movable items left inside, was
Pingtung County was home to many of Taiwan’s earliest Hakka immigrants. Jiadong Township (佳冬鄉), now little more than a small rural outpost along the road to Kenting with a slowly dwindling population and a local economy supported mainly by aquaculture, was once a thriving Hakka stronghold. Evidence of the residents’ strong family ties, self-reliance and, in some cases, keen business sense, still remains. At the time of the Japanese takeover in 1895, it was still an important enough center that the incoming colonists sent a special military mission to capture it. Nowadays, much has been done to preserve the cultural
March 27 to April 2 After placing fifth in the 1964 Miss Universe pageant in Miami, “Miss China” Yu Yi (于儀) toured the US to great fanfare. The Chinese community in San Francisco called her the “pride of the Republic of China (ROC),” and she even received the key to New York City. Taiwan’s Miss China pageant produced three winners that year who performed on the international stage. Lin Su-hsin (林素幸), the second Taiwan-born Miss China, did even better, claiming third place in London’s Miss World. She says she was elated to see