Foreign chefs in Italy: Yoji Tokuyoshi
Foreign chefs in Italy: Yoji Tokuyoshi
Yoji Tokuyoshi chose Italy very young: from Massimo Bottura’s court he arrived in Milan 4 years ago to open his restaurant, Tokuyoshi.
” I have risked closing twice in recent years but I have saved everything and now I have been renovating my restaurant in November “. Yoji Tokuyoshi thus summarizes, with his usual simplicity, these first 4 years of his Tokuyoshi in via S. Calocero 3, in Milan, a stone’s throw from the basilica of Sant’Ambrogio. The star arrived almost immediately, a few months after opening in December 2015,he chose Italy when he was very young, struck by our flavorsrewarded the entrepreneurial adventure of this chef trained at the Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura’s sous-chef for 9 years, but the current success has also gone through difficult moments to develop his restaurant, to make customers understand his double identity – Japanese and Italian together, as he feels – that after training in his country of origin he chose Italy when he was very young, struck by our flavors. A development that today perfectly adheres to his professional and life path. And now the road is finally marked, indeed: in November the chef relaunches with the start of 3 months of work to expand the place and include the spaces of a shop next door, passing to 40 seats from the current 30. The counter lengthens, the bar at the back goes away and the kitchen will be in sight. Space will also be created for a private room and a waiting room where you can have a drink.
How has your restaurant changed in these 4 years?
When I opened, many customers said that mine wasn’t Italian cuisine, they didn’t understand what I was doing, I was Japanese in the kitchen. The arrival of the Michelin star in December 2015 changed the clientele: more aware clients arrived, who had gone to Japan, who understood what I was doing. But still it was necessary to explain the dishes better, to use fewer Japanese expressions and to simplify. The Italians were ready, maybe it was we who didn’t explain our dishes at the beginning. Certainly Milan is more open than other cities but I have changed several things. Together with the team I decided to increase the price of the menu and offer only one, instead of the initial three, keeping only 4 dishes a la carte. I also had to change sommelier and restaurant manager. Now we are 10 in the kitchen and 3 in the dining room,
How do Italy and Japan coexist in your dishes?
The Italian and Japanese traditions are similar, based on the ingredients, and so I also simplified the menu, made it more essential. I use Italian ingredients and they dictate the rules, from their characteristics derives the technique I use to enhance them to the fullest, whether Italian or Japanese. I like the fact that meat or fish always arrives at your place different, perhaps imperfect: the challenge is to prepare them in the best possible way. An example? The monkfish. Preparing it is a long job and only with the Japanese technique can I cook the liver and remove the bitterness. On the taste in the dish I look for umami, for me it is very important. In Italian cuisine there is in some combinations even if at the beginning it was not called that. For example with turnip greens and anchovies, pasta with parmesan, clams with parsley. We also play with combining meat and fish together: we make duck with scallops cooked with fermented butter or we combine amberjack and fassona tartare with caviar topping. Among the dishes that continue to represent me there is my picture of fish, of course, but now we also offer other meats, whose animals are drawn on the serving plates, such as duck, guinea fowl or deer.
And how do you research the Italian ingredients you use?
The research of ingredients and the collection of techniques and recipes I do while traveling around Italy. I like very much. For me, km zero means all of Italy, I look for all of your country. The 4 Hands with Nonna project was born from this need. A real tour that I do with the team. The first day we learn a dish made by our grandmothers, the next day we interpret it. For example, we went to Maremma to learn cooked water, a poor traditional dish. We remade it as a concentrated, filtered soup to drink. It is a way of experimenting, it does not necessarily mean that this enters the menu. The idea came to me because if there is one thing I learned in Italy, it is how important grandmothers are in the kitchen. It is not the same in Japan, there is not the same family culture as there is here: all together around the table.