At Jean-Georges Tokyo, a French restaurant located in Tokyo's Roppongi district, guests get to see the kitchen across the counter.
From appetizers to fish and meat, dishes emerge from the orderly countertop in succession.
Fumio Yonezawa, the 37-year-old head chef, is seen working in the middle of his staff. He turns off the heat under the small pot, and pulls out a spoon from his breast pocket to have a taste. The smooth action alone whets guests’ appetites and heightens their expectations.
In his childhood, Tokyo-born Yonezawa liked to help his mother while she cooked. By the time he was in the fourth grade, he was making fried rice and deep-fried foods. The idea of becoming a cook dawned on him when he saw that his dishes made his family smile. After graduating from high school, he began working at an Italian restaurant in Tokyo where he learned about service and cooking.
A turning point came when a group of Americans, who are not shy of showing their emotions, came as guests. Happy with the food, they gave Yonezawa a hand while saying, "Thank you!" It occurred to him then that it might be fun to work in a country where people like them lived. In 2002, when he was 21, he flew to New York City.
While working at a Japanese restaurant, he spent his only day off in the week working in the kitchens of renowned local restaurants that he had contacted and keenly asked for shifts. It was unpaid work, but he wanted to gain accomplished skills and taste. It was around that time that he came across Jean-Georges.
A proper sense of tension filled the kitchen, and Yonezawa felt there was order among the staff. After a number of stints, he was officially hired by the restaurant, where he refined his skills for about four years starting in early 2003.
He eventually rose to assistant head chef, and upon his return to Japan in 2007, Yonezawa, a father of two daughters, worked at a number of restaurants before landing the top job at Jean-Georges Tokyo when it opened in 2014.
The restaurant has won a star in the Michelin Guide Tokyo for four consecutive years starting in 2015.
Jean-Georges is known for using a moderate amount of seasonings to draw out the inherent flavor of the ingredients as much as possible. Chunky mashed carrot, which he used to cook for his lunch, is one such dish.
The keys to the dish, which retains small pieces of carrot, are the choice of ingredients and on-target seasoning. Yonezawa recalls that he was impressed by its simplicity that left no room for tricks. The gentle sweet taste characteristic of carrots spreads in the mouth.
2 medium-sized carrots
50 grams butter
Little less than 1 tsp salt
Some coarsely grated black pepper
Peel carrot and cut into dices measuring 2 cm a side.
Place carrot and salt in pot and pour water to a point the corners of the carrot show. Cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes until carrot turns quite tender.
When most of the water is gone, add butter and mix thoroughly. Add salt (not listed above) and sprinkle with pepper.