Vermicular | Chef Partners | Shinobu Namae

Shinobu Namae


Chef's Journey

In 2010, Chef Shinobu Namae opened a French restaurant called L'Effervescence in Nishi-Azabu,Tokyo. He was awarded two Michelin stars multiple years in a row and three Michelin stars in 2021. In a television program produced by CNN, his French-based cuisine was chosen as representative of Tokyo, conveying the richness of Japanese nature. Indeed, Chef Namae is a leader of a new generation in gastronomy. He receives attention from all over the world but doesn't allow his status to go to his head. Because of his sincere personality, he is admired not only by his customers and staff but also by the farmers across Japan who supply his ingredients. In college, he majored in political science and planned to be a journalist, but he turned his path towards the culinary world after working a part-time job in the restaurant industry. He initially focused on cooking Italian food but shifted his focus to French cuisine after he experienced the food of Michel Bras, who is called "a genius at creating dishes from nature" in the modern French culinary world. In 2003, Chef Namae honed his skills at Michel Bras' Hokkaido restaurant, Toya Japon, and then from 2008, he served as a sous chef at The Fat Duck, a three-star restaurant in London.

Nature-Inspired Approach

The word "effervescence," incorporated in the restaurant's name, means "cheerful and lively" in French. Shinobu believes that people feel joy when connected with nature and feel gratitude for life through his dishes. From this philosophy, he focuses on making the best use of carefully produced local ingredients. At Asia's Best Restaurant Awards in 2018, his restaurant was awarded a Sustainable Restaurant Award, given only to restaurants that meet strict evaluation criteria, such as procurement standards for ingredients, environmental considerations, and staff working hours. His aim is not to fill seats with reservations only for foodies. He desires to use his skills to make people happy all over the world. He maintains his philosophy of cooking, his demeanor, and his way of living in order to pursue this goal.

"My belief is that you won't know how good things are unless you experience them yourself. So you have to see things with your own eyes and feel things on your own skin. I care what kind of environment and soil ingredients were grown in. Experiencing where they came from in person leads to a unique expression of cooking. Some dishes capture each season, while others capture the turn of the seasons. You can taste and enjoy a season through a dish that isolates a certain moment of that particular time of year. I feel that it is my role and responsibility as a chef to create that encounter. That's why I have relationships with farmers nationwide, from Rebun Island in Hokkaido to Yonaguni Island in Okinawa, and these relationships are one of my most valuable assets. Sometimes I approach them, and sometimes they come to me. Either way, I always go to the production site and have a one-on-one dialogue with the farmers."

“Traveling is my life's work, and I have been fortunate enough to have many great encounters during my trips. For example, the salt of Yonaguni Island that I am using now was introduced to me by a man I met at a Chinese restaurant in Naha City, Okinawa. He was the producer of the delicious salt. This kind of thing happens a lot to me. If I lived in Tokyo just going back and forth between my house and the restaurant, such a miracle would not happen. I also enjoy traveling abroad. Last year I went to Bhutan. And this year, I went to Australia and visited the area where Aboriginal people live, and I learned about their traditional cuisine derived from hunting. But it's not like I travel to seek cooking ideas. I'm just going where my heart takes me. For me, working and traveling are naturally connected. I feel it is natural for me to rely on my senses and always keep moving. I'm the kind of a person who doesn't necessarily choose where to work, I suppose.

I've looked into my roots before. Going back about 20,000 years, I ended up finding out that my ancestors were northern hunter-gatherers. It then made sense to me why I like moving around all the time because my ancestors were like a nomadic tribe. One of the reasons I became a chef is that it is perhaps connected to my life's work of traveling. A chef doesn't only cook. A chef is a person and inhabitant of this planet before they are a chef. So harmony with nature is important, and I always make sure to consider other people, things, or food. I always keep that in mind.”

Signature Dishes

Amadai Tilefish

Amadai Tilefish

Ingredients: tilefish, broad beans, green peas, hana-sansho, sansho oil, whey

Soak the tilefish in the whey overnight and cook for 3 minutes at 70°C in the Musui–Kamado. This unique cooking method brings out deep umami from the tilefish and keeps it moist. The tilefish plays the leading role while elegantly composed with spring ingredients such as peas, broad beans, and hana-sansho. Hana-sansho, which blooms only about a week to 10 days per year, conveys the delicate beauty of the Japanese season.

Seasonal Vegetable Salad

Seasonal Vegetable Salad

Ingredients: Purple napa cabbage, yellow carrot, burdock, dandelion, red sorrel, micro celery, red potherb mustard, tatsoi, lotus root, Brussels sprouts, red sweet potato, prickly lettuce, common vetch, Chioggia beets, lily bulb, green beans, lady bells, red fiddlehead, snow hosta plant, etc.

About 50 kinds of seasonal vegetables from all over Japan are displayed to represent the beautiful scenery of a Japanese mountain village on a plate—the mountain in the background and the village in the foreground. This salad is served as the third dish of the dinner course at L'Effervescence and includes a list of each vegetable used in the dish, where each was produced, and the names of each producer.

Making the World a Better Place

“In college, I majored in political science and aimed to become a journalist because I wanted to eliminate the nonsense and inequalities of the world. I went to school during the day and worked at night to pay my tuition, and I slept only a little at night. It was a hard time. Then I started a part-time job at an Italian restaurant because I wanted to eat delicious food while working. I began by washing dishes, and eventually, I was allowed to work in the kitchen, and my interest in cooking deepened. I was happy to hear feedback on my dishes directly from the customers. I felt that I was truly alive and enjoyed the interactions I had with people through cooking. After graduating, I got a job at an Italian restaurant based in Nishi-Azabu.

I was also interested in French cuisine at the time, but I didn't feel that ingredients were utilized best in French cuisine. The ingredients seemed to transform into a shape that is not natural. Then one day, Michel Bras' cookbook suddenly jumped into my eyes at a bookstore in New York. His cuisine is French, but as I turned the pages, I could see the faces of the ingredients on each dish, and that resonated with me. To eat is to appreciate the life of the food. I could tell that Bras sincerely faces the ingredients and respects nature through the images in the cookbook, and I intuitively thought that "This is the kind of dish I want to make!" I learned that his second restaurant was located in Lake Toya in Hokkaido. So, as soon as I got back from New York, I jumped on a plane to visit the restaurant. At the age of 30, I started working at his restaurant. I realized that French cuisine is generous-hearted, and I could freely express the beauty of nature differently from Japanese cuisine.

Then, at the age of 35, I worked as a sous chef at a three-star restaurant in London, and at the age of 37, I was able to open my own restaurant. But after a while, I realized that I wasn't happy. In general, formal fine dining is mostly reserved for special occasions. I was proud of that, but it prevented me from fully connecting with society beyond my interactions at the restaurant.

I want to have a place in society beyond being valued as a chef. I'm not interested in a profession where only one side of the people benefits. I want my work to invigorate the entire food industry and make the world a happier place. It may seem like my path changed entirely from my college major, but in fact, my core desire to make everyone happy has not changed at all.”

Chef's Commitment

“As a restaurant owner, I want to create a place where each and every staff member can demonstrate their individuality and work happily regardless of the stage of their career. For example, the word choice for presenting a new menu to customers is left to the sensibilities of the service staff. At my restaurant, we record each staff giving a presentation. Everyone watches and exchanges opinions, and I give a star rating. Veteran staff is not always better than less experienced ones. Sometimes a young member of staff surprises me with their expressiveness. When one is bound by a seniority system, it is difficult to create an environment for growth. I believe that being openly evaluated, regardless of career stage, motivates everyone. A fair workplace will facilitate growth, and as a result, will improve the quality of the entire restaurant.

I try to give back to my staff in the same way that society has given so much to me. Not just by paying a high salary, but by also providing something that fundamentally supports their future. It should be something that makes it easier for them to find someone who will support them when they want to have their own restaurant after moving on from mine. To that end, my restaurant needs to continue to be socially evaluated, and I don't want to lose favor with the public. I will support the next generation, and eventually, I can pass the baton to them. I believe that giving back to society is a natural cycle in a broad sense.”

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