Meet the Chef Reinventing French Cuisine with Japanese Ingredients
When in Tokyo, certain places are considered requisite stops on your culinary pilgrimage: your life is only complete once you’ve tried sushi at Jiro’s, or the day’s freshest catch in Tsukiji Fish Market. A Western restaurant is rarely considered a must for Tokyo visitors, but that’s only because Florilège has yet to land on their radar.
Since opening its doors in 2009, the French restaurant has been quietly accumulating fans and accolades. Now relocated to an intimate dining space in Shibuya, the eatery has recently picked up Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant’s coveted “One to Watch” award.
French cuisine in Japan is typically a lavish affair with multiple courses, but Florilège aims to provide a novel and more sustainable take. Having worked at Le Jardin des Sens in France and the renowned Quintessence in Tokyo, Chef Hiroyasu Kawate is doing French food his own way — reducing food waste by creatively utilising scraps and leftovers whenever possible.
The restaurant’s signature dishes reflect his mission: the prawns transported from Nagano prefecture were smoked with the straw packaging they came in; in another sustainable beef dish, a mature cow — which, after many births, would not be typically served in other restaurants — is prepared with pepper and salt and dried overnight to bring out the flavours. Despite being a French restaurant, most ingredients are originated in Japan.
To learn more about his vision, we sat down briefly with the accomplished chef to discuss family influences, sourcing ingredients, and his stance on food waste.
Let’s talk about your culinary background. How did family inspire your decision to take up cooking?
My mother, father and my uncles and aunts are all chefs. Ever since kindergarten, I’ve been interested in learning about food from my family. Before I remembered anything else, I was already taking in information about cooking. Since my family made yoshoku (Japanese-influenced Western cuisine), they have always worn those large chef hats. That was part of the reason why I took up French cooking — so I’d get to wear those tall, cool-looking hats. I saw food as my sole career choice and didn’t consider any other path.
What’s the biggest difference between classic French cuisine and the French food at Florilège?
To me, classic French food is having lots of ingredients packed together in a very concentrated manner. You have the main ingredient, but a lot more sauces and flavours will be added to that. Everything tastes really rich. My approach — with the influence of Japanese cooking — is much more about how to use each ingredient specifically. I will focus on the main ingredient as much as possible and refrain from adding unnecessary things. I try to limit my use of butter, for example.
What’s your approach to sourcing ingredients?
I aim to use as much Japanese ingredients as possible to create a new unique style of French cooking. To me, it’s about knowing the face of every single producer I buy from and being able to guarantee the quality and safety of the ingredients. I only work with producers with a natural approach to farming, who only grow the amount they can per season. I go along with the natural quantity, and that’s reflected that in my menu: there’s no particular meat-or-vegetables order or sequence. However, I have to import certain things you can’t find in Japan, such as foie gras, truffles and pepper.
Why have you made reducing food waste the main mission for your restaurant?
People are not aware of how much food is wasted in Japan: in fact, Japan is the number one wasteful country in the world in terms of food. I was half-raised by my grandparents, and they distilled this mentality of not squandering any food into my consciousness. Sadly, my generation usually just throw away whatever they don’t use. In a typical Japanese restaurant with course menus, the amount of scraps wasted is unbelievable. So I’ve started to incorporate leftovers into the dishes we serve. For example, we’ll make a vegetable soup using scraps from a previous course. Our foreign customers actually appreciate this very much, but it can be difficult for a Japanese customer to understand why we’re serving something made from leftovers. Through my work at the restaurant, I hope to help educate people more about conserving what we already have.