Master Chef Masahiro Yoshitake-san wanted to be a chef since he was a young boy. Born in Tochigi just north of Tokyo, he was fascinated with the chef’s toque blanche and the authority that came with it. At young age, he started learning to cook from his mum and packed his own lunchbox for school. One can only imagine the envy his classmates felt when he opened his bento box.
It was his father who said he should consider becoming a sushi chef instead. Taking heed of the advice, he worked part time at a sushi restaurant when he was a high school student. Yoshitake-san then worked in a major sushi restaurant before he was transferred to New York for a few years to helm the restaurant there.
While it was a good experience for him, he felt that there was more he could do to promote the delicacies of Japanese cuisine rather than just making spider and California rolls, albeit that was the time when the United States was starting to learn more about Japanese cuisine. So he packed his bags and headed back to open his own restaurant in Roppongi and after six years, he moved his restaurant to Ginza. He knew that to succeed he needed to be located there. He now leads a team of four in Ginza with his wife managing front of house, and two chefs in Hong Kong in his namesake restaurant.
Fast forward to today, Yoshitake-san stands proud at his seven-seater restaurant located in Ginza in his chef’s white, minus the toque blanche. He is focused on showcasing the freshest seafood from Japan, especially from Kyushu and Shizuoka. In particular, he places absolute trust in his seafood distributor from Shizuoka who shares his exact standards for seafood, that he does not make any order, but simply receives what his distributor feels is the freshest of the season.
Yoshitake-san skillfully uses ingredients that add enhanced layers of flavours and tastes to his dishes, but at the same time, it remains simple, harmonious and true to Japanese cuisine. His first dish of kani with bonito jelly vinegar and crab roe is a harmony of flavours where the sweetness of the kani is enhanced by the slight saltiness of the bonito jelly and the rich crab roe brings a rounded richness to the dish.
His specialty dish of sliced abalone with abalone liver sauce is a perfect pairing where the natural ocean brine is balanced off with the richness of the liver sauce, that in turn, enhanced the natural sweetness of the abalone flesh. At the end, he gives you a small pinch of his vinegared sushi rice to mix into the abalone liver sauce and smilingly tells you that it’s his version of risotto. Thoroughly mixed, the rich, salty risotto-like mixture leaves you clamouring for more.
The Akashi tako is slowly cooked in a cast iron pot for heat control that gives at the lightest of bite and when dipped into the accompanying pink Hiroshima mojio salt, brings back the soft brine of the ocean. Crunchy, sweet and briny.
The simple dish of kinmedai sashimi is thoughtfully enhanced with high-quality shoyu that is brewed with kinmedai bones – a technique similar to boiling soup stock with bonito and kombu – to create a dipping sauce that is full of umami bringing out the sweetness of the kinmedai.
Yoshitake-san is generous with the fish slices for his Edo-styled sushi, hiding the nicely-sized sushi rice under glistening pieces of fish. The light-brown sushi rice is a blend of two different grains and has more vinegar added than usual. Usually this would overwhelm the natural sweetness of fish but when the slices are generous, the sushi rice takes a slightly different role in enhancing the sweetness instead.
As a bon vivant, Yoshitake-san takes inspiration from the other chefs he meets when he dines out. He is not particular about the type of cuisine, but more important is that the chef preparing the meal makes his/her best effort. This constant push for excellence stimulates his thinking on how he can better refine and bring his own cuisine to the next level.
Yoshitake-san does not want to create an intimidating environment for his guests so while he remains intensely focused as he creates his dishes in front of you, there is always an easy smile when you talk to him about his culinary creations and sushi. Yoshitake-san feels that while sushi is a very traditional Japanese cuisine, he prefers his customers not to overthink and try to understand it. Instead, he wants his guests to taste and focus on the differences in quality from the fish in Japan compared to other countries.
If you need a conversation starter, ask Yoshitake-san about the dining table you are seated at. It is something he is extremely proud of as it was carved out from a tree in the Edo period and made in Ibaraki. Perhaps it is Yoshitake-san’s way to tie in the traditional Edo-styled sushi with his guest for a complete experience.
As you taste each of his dishes, look out for the one ingredient that enhances the overall flavour of the dish or sushi, or the layers of flavours that Yoshitake-san thoughtfully puts together to bring out the essence of the dish. Refined, simple, balanced, layered and clean are the adjectives one would describe his culinary creations. Sushi Yoshitake truly deserves its reputation as one of the top Japanese restaurants in Japan today.
Written by Elvin