It is not easy to describe the cuisine of Japanese chef Atsushi Tanaka even if he has been described as the Picasso of the kitchen by his master Pierre Gagnaire. Even when asked he hesitates before he answers that his cuisine is French at its basic but with influence from his home country Japan and his travels to Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia.
“I wouldn’t call my cuisine French. Yes, there is French influence but I have worked in Spain, Belgium, Netherlands and in Scandinavia (Copenhagen and Stockholm),” he tells Food and Wine Gazette.
Probably the best way to describe his cuisine would be international. He agrees telling me he would describe it as an international contemporary and modern cuisine.
This young Japanese chef is one of the many chefs that are establishing themselves in the heart of the world’s culinary centre Paris and cooking French cuisine. These Japanese chefs have moved from their traditional Japanese cuisine and are making a name for themselves in a place where it would not have normally been easy for foreign chefs to establish themselves.
“There are many Japanese chefs cooking French style cuisine. It did not start now but has been going on for the past 10-15 years,” Atushi tells me when I stopped to chat with him at Flemish Food Bash recently. “When it started it was extremely difficult for Japanese chefs to establish themselves and open their own restaurants. It was not easy at the time.”
But more and more chefs started to work in French kitchens with French chefs and they grew in confidence. “Maybe our generation of 34, 35 and 36 year old chefs is lucky because it is easier for us to open a restaurant in Paris now.”
He tells me that given the culinary culture of the French capital it was not difficult to establish oneself. “That culinary culture helped us in many ways,” he says.
The young Japanese chef takes his inspiration from his travels and his experiences abroad. “I have been inspired by Japanese, French, Spanish, Belgian and Scandinavian cuisine. But at heart it is my cuisine,” he says.
Atsushi Tanaka’s Restaurant A.T. in the Paris Latin Quarter has only opened in March 2014 but it is exceeding expectations. It has already been noticed by Gault Millau and he hopes to attract the attention of Michelin and the San Pellegrin0 list.
He tells me he owes his career to Pierre Gagnaire. “He is the chef who inspired me when I was 17 years old and I am a chef thanks to him. He also mentions Quique Dacosta and Sergio Herman as having left an important impression on him. In turn, given how Pierre Gagnaire refers to him (‘Picasso of the kitchen’) you need to make sure to remember this name.
I ask him how he finds inspiration. “Sometimes I am just inspired by a colour and then I limit my dishes to two to three products using the same colour. Or else I use a number of different textures with one ingredient to create a dish like ‘Camouflage. Sometimes it could be the colour of a glass or plate.”
I ask him about the current trends and he sees South American cuisine on the rise. “Before it was easy. France was at the top for many long years. But then chefs from Spain started going to France to learn and then returned and created the Spanish movement. There were chefs like Quique Da Costa and Arzak. Now the same thing is happening in South America with many chefs going to Spain to learn before heading back to their countries.”
Atsushi believes chefs need to travel for their own country’s cuisine to evolve. He still owes a lot to Japanese techniques. He tells me that for example, when it comes to the conservation of fish and technique when using fish, he goes back to his Japanese origins.
I ask him what he thinks about guides and bloggers. He tells me all are important. “Michelin has a story behind. It is extremely important though there could possibly be politics behind it just like the San Pellegrino list which is also equally important. When it comes to bloggers, it also depends on what the people know or don’t know about that particular cuisine. At the end of the day everyone has a different point of view and taste can be difficult. Everyone has a place in today’s world. You just need to focus on your own cooking.”
Last three questions.
Favourite dish you have made?
Favourite thing to eat?
Cuisine you prefer?
I love Spanish cuisine. It is simple and good.