Bringing harmony and effervescence to cooking and to life
With some of the best food in the world and on many a culinary bucket list, Japan is a coveted destination for dining. Visitors might wonder why go there to dine at a restaurant serving what is often described as Modern French cuisine? But this is something quite different! The cuisine of Chef Shinobu Namae, who trained under Chef Michel Bras in France, applies classic French technique to Japanese ingredients and flavors, taking them to another level. Breaking some of the rules (butter!) and creating what could almost be described as an entirely new, vegetable forward cuisine, he is a trailblazer in many ways. With a passionate commitment to sustainability, L’Effervescence which is placed at #26 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2019, Chef Namae is setting out to make his impact on the world. Aspire Lifestyle’s Director of Dining Ann Hill had the opportunity to ask Chef Namae a few questions about his cuisine, his goals and what inspires him.
Aspire Lifestyles: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of your restaurant?
Shinobu Namae: If I were to explain the uniqueness of Japanese cuisine, we cannot ignore the historical fact that we were not allowed to consume meat (beef, pork, chicken, etc.) for about 1200 years until the end of 19th century. Luckily, four different oceans surround our country and 66% of the land is covered with forest. We could create our national cuisine as a plant-based diet with some seafood. The cuisine of our restaurant is much more focused on vegetables. I believe that our restaurant uses the most extensive variety of vegetables, more than other restaurants in Japan, in addition to wild foraged mountain vegetables and fruits.
Aspire Lifestyles: As sustainability has become a top priority for so many chefs, and with L’Effervescence winning the inaugural Asia’s 50 Best Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2018, how are you continuing that commitment? In an effort for zero waste, what is the most creative thing you’ve done with products that would have at one time been considered unusable?
Shinobu Namae: A “Sustainable restaurant” is not the complete concept of what we achieved, but it’s the commitment of never-ending effort and research to have a positive impact on our environment with care & compassion.
We create waste in our daily work of consumption whether it’s large or small. To minimize waste we need to be super creative by turning waste into delicious food. (Like making broth from vegetable peelings or heads & bones of fish). If we’re not able to use it for delicious things, we send un-usable waste to our partner farmers to make it into compost to put back into the fields, or we use our microbiological food-decomposing machine to minimize (94% compared to conventional way) the greenhouse gas rather than sending it to an incineration plant.
Aspire Lifestyles: You worked under the legends Michel Bras in Laguiole, France and Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck in Bray, England. What was the most notable takeaway from each of them that has shaped you as a chef today?
Shinobu Namae: Michel Bras gave me the idea of being who I am. He was always giving us questions, asking how we can be sincere to where we belong and what to do. I think he gave me a mission to complete how I should behave and contribute to make this planet beautiful.
Heston gave me an excellent example for how we can discover our identity through the history of our culture.
Aspire Lifestyles: What is the most important value in cooking that you teach and stress to your kitchen team?
Shinobu Namae: We have this character 和 (wa), which is normally translated as “harmony” or “peace”.
To have “harmony”, you have to listen to the voice of others.
Aspire Lifestyles: What has been your most memorable food destination (city/country), and why?
Shinobu Namae: I normally don’t travel for places, but for people (person). So it’s difficult to answer this question
because all of my memories are related to people in each place.
Aspire Lifestyles: You have done guest chef dinners at some spectacular locations including the Napa Valley, Singapore and Bhutan. Which of those has been the most memorable and why?
Shinobu Namae: It’s hard to compare one from the others. The Napa (Sonoma) event was for a charity fundraising dinner for California fire relief. The Singapore event was to help to my friend, a former colleague, when he and his restaurant were not yet popular. Bhutan was for my personal interest to discover the highlanders cooking and Mahayana Buddhism temple cuisine because Japanese cuisine is so influenced by temple cuisine throughout history. I feel that GDP is not the number you can count on to know how happy you feel.
Aspire Lifestyles: Which restaurant, hotel, person or place has most inspired your sense of hospitality?
Shinobu Namae: Chez Panisse (restaurant), Amankora (hotel), Jeong Kwan (person), Miyamasou (place).
Note: Chez Panisse is the iconic restaurant of Chef Alice Waters in Berkeley, California. Amankora is one of the famed Aman resorts located in Bhutan. Jeong Kwan is a Zen Buddhist nun who is an expert in vegan Korean temple cuisine. Miyamasou is a small inn in the mountain area outside of Kyoto with tranquil lodging and specializing in foragers cuisine.
Aspire Lifestyles: One evening you get to take five chefs together (present or past) to dinner at any restaurant or location 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?
Shinobu Namae: Michel Bras
To the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (to do plant based dinner for all representatives of nations).
Aspire Lifestyles: How has your placement on The Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list changed your life?
Shinobu Namae: To be humble and honest, our placement on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list has had a big impact on all whom are connected to our restaurant. Primarily the producers (farmers, hunters, foragers…) who are so proud that we are using their products. Our staff family feels positive, trusting, and are supportive of our business and activity. Previously I had difficulty justifying the high pressure and intensely-focused work environment to my team; to understand what is required to achieve my goals, including a serious commitment to make the world better. People are now listening to our voice.