Chef Yusuke Takada of La Cime, Tokyo – Childhood determination, drive and luck are the makings of this world-class chef

Chef Yusuke Takada knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a chef when he grew up. Today, he is that and more, with his restaurant La Cime achieving a place on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant 2019 list at #14 and in 2018, arriving to the list as the Highest New Entry. He takes inspiration when it comes to him while maintaining tradition and knowing that La Cime is always a work in progress. Ann Hill, Director of Dining at Aspire Lifestyles, was able to learn more.

Aspire Lifestyles: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of your restaurant?

Chef Yusuke Takada: Restaurant La Cime is not a Japanese restaurant, but uses Japanese ingredients to make new style of Japanese cuisine (I think this is a global standard today which we see happening everywhere). I have my own filterable ingredients for my own choice of products, introducing customers in Japan and abroad to combinations they have never experienced or aren’t yet familiar. I would like diners to recognize it as a place where they can have a delicious meal that is also an intuitive expression. It’s layered in with theory and perhaps some unfinished ingredients that might otherwise be difficult to convey. Before delivering to the world, I would like people in Japan experience it first.

AL: Aspire Lifestyles’s CEO Martin Conneen had the honor of presenting you with the Highest New Entry Award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in 2018. It’s a very exciting award and to come in at #17 is quite an amazing accomplishment. How did it feel, knowing that you made a place on the list, and that your name wasn’t being called earlier in the ceremony? (We hope that you are smiling as you recall this moment).

YT: The awards were announced in order from the 50th place, but our name wasn’t pronounced correctly. When La Cime was called, I thought it was a mistake. The moment that the trophy was presented and La Cime was announced Highest New Entry Award will remain an unforgettable event for me.

AL: What progress have you seen over the span of your career so far? What would you like to see happen, and how are you becoming part of that evolution?

YT: When I first started cooking, Chef Robuchon was famous but the Internet was not as popular as it is now, so I bought books and studied cooking. While looking at Alain Ducasse’s Gran Livre, I tried replicating great dishes and was inspired to go to France and try to experience something real.
I was able to get a work permit to stay in France for two years, so I trained at several of the best gastronomic restaurants in Paris, and finally worked at Le Meurice under then head chef, Mr. Yannick Alleno. It was the period that I was able to think about the chef I wanted to become, having experience from the best.

At the same time Nordic cuisine was getting attention, especially the presence of Noma, a style which shocked me considerably. It was a valuable experience in which you could see the real-time moment when restaurant standards suddenly shifted. But I also learned that this style cannot be done by one person. I think that tastes change quickly and now everything is different from the past. I would like to continue to create my own cuisine in light of the times, keeping tradition while being original. I can’t say much because I am still on my way, but I have been able to create something appealing that Japanese chefs have never done before. I think that is good. I am honored if it is part of an evolution.

AL: The late Jean-Claude Vrinat, the owner of restaurant Taillevent in Paris, was known for his impeccable and gracious sense of hospitality. What did you take away from your experience there, both from a hospitality and cooking perspective?

YT: On my first day of work at Taillevent, I was waiting at the back door and remember Mr. Vrinat saying “bienvenue” (welcome). I didn’t work there for long but I was lucky to have been able to experience that historic location.

AL: Speaking of France, we read that you wanted to become a chef of French cuisine from a young age. How was your experience living in Paris and what surprised you the most?

YT: I wrote in my elementary school graduation letter that I wanted to become a chef when I grew up. Although I wasn’t in Paris for culinary school, (he was at the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka) during my time in Paris I was dedicated to studying French and spending time with French people on days off to absorb the culture because I was aiming to work in a three-star restaurant in France. I went to the homes of my co-workers, went out drinking and went foraging for truffles and mushrooms. I bought a baguette and relaxed in the park.

AL: What is the most important value in cooking that you teach and stress to your kitchen team?

YT: To be Interesting and caring.

AL: The esthetic of La Cime is very minimalist. How does it contribute to the dining experience?

YT: It wasn’t that way in the beginning. My style has evolved the more I have experienced. Sometimes there is a boom of inspiration, so instead of being conscious and simple, it is a natural flow of expression.

AL: What has been your most memorable food destination (city/country), and why?

YT: There are various discoveries and development in Asia in recent years. I haven’t had enough time so I haven’t visited as many as I’d like, but I’m interested in China.

AL: Which musician or band would you like to cook for in a casual, private setting to chat, eat and maybe hear some of their music?

YT: Alicia keys

AL: One evening you get to take five 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?

YT: Having BBQ with:

  • Alain Chapel
  • Pierre Gagnaire
  • Ferran Adria
  • Rene Redzepi
  • Alain Passard

We would go to Amami Oshima Isalnd the largest island in the Satsunan island chain that runs between Kyushu and Okinawa that belongs to Kagoshima Prefecture. We would enjoy the local foods at a local restaurant made by a grandmother and have a Q&A session with them.

AL: How has your placement on The Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list changed your life?

YT: Asia’s 50 Best was an opportunity for broader awareness of the whole of Asia. After winning the prize, guests from all over Asia came to visit. I think that the exchange with fellow chefs has also expanded the scope.