The Perfection of Surprises and Whimsy with Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa at DEN

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa takes a modern and whimsical approach to his cuisine by combining pop culture with classic Japanese flavors. In a relaxed setting at his restaurant in Tokyo, the hospitality is warm and gracious. The food is quite serious when it comes to flavor and creativity, but is presented on the plate with a wink and a lot of fun. Den has earned the #17 spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Aspire Lifestyles Director of Dining, Ann Hill, was able to learn a bit more about this exciting chef.

Aspire Lifestyles: You have reached such amazing critical acclaim for cuisine that is modern and whimsical in an ambiance that is more relaxed. How do more traditional diners react to your food and dining experience?

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa: The dishes at DEN might look very different from so called traditional ones, but once the guests taste them, they will know it is Japanese cuisine.

Aspire Lifestyles: You won the 2018 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Art of Hospitality Award. Your mother was a geisha, which is the epitome of gracious hospitality. Did she influence how you welcome guests? Which restaurant, hotel, or place has most inspired your sense of hospitality?

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa: Trying to understand the guests and always thinking about them is what I learned from my mother. Also, it is very important to communicate with the guests what we can do and what we are not able to accommodate. There is no specific place that influenced me for the hospitality at DEN. I learned all the good parts from the places I have been.

Aspire Lifestyles: What advice would you give to aspiring chefs? What did you wish you knew when you first began your journey into the culinary world?

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa: Don’t give up so quickly and easily. Please try, try, and try! Also, being a chef is not only about cooking. Thinking about how to make people happy is also chef’s job. I wish I had known sooner that I should think of all the people who would eat my food. Cooking is never only about the cooking technique.

Aspire Lifestyles: You have incredible sense of style. Who or what influences you?

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa: It’s really difficult to say exactly who or what influences me. I always have the hint from the chefs and people I meet by talking to them.

Aspire Lifestyles: What is your thought on bloggers and diners on social media vs. established restaurant critics?

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa: It is good to know all the different opinions. It’s greatly appreciated if they (the bloggers, sms, or the critics) talk to me as well and we can communicate with each other. I’d rather to have two way than a one-way communication.

Aspire Lifestyles: What has been the most interesting ingredient, technique, or dish that you have experienced while traveling that has inspired your cooking?

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa: There are always good ingredients in each country or area I found interesting. Especially, the local food or family meals are always the best.

Aspire Lifestyles: One evening you get to take 5 chefs (present or past) to dinner at any restaurant in the world. Which chefs do you bring along with you and where do you take them (aside from your own restaurant)? Why those chefs and why that restaurant?

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa: For foreign chefs, it would be Alex Atala, Gaggan Anand, Jorge Vallejo and Richie Lam. I would love to have hot-pot (Japanese Nabe) with them in Japan. All at the table have the same food so it’s like having a meal with family in Japan.

Aspire Lifestyles: How has your placement on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list changed your life?

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa: I had never thought DEN would be on the list before. I realized DEN’s guests and all the supporters are much happier that I am to see us on the list. I will work hard on continuing to provide better experiences at DEN.