Masakazu Taira・Fumio Yonezawa
Owner Chef, Don Bravo（Taira）・NOwner Chef, No Code（Yonezawa）
●Where are you from?
（Yonezawa）I was born and raised in Asakusa and went to high school in Nihonbashi High School, which was located in Suitengu, so I actually grew up in Nihonbashi. At that time, I remember that it wasn’t very fashionable, it was really a businessman’s town.
●What changes have you seen in the landscape of the Nihonbashi neighborhood?
（Yonezawa）I had the impression that Nihonbashi and Kayabacho had always been business districts for securities brokers, but about 15 years ago grill restaurants, Spanish bars, and karaoke bars began to pop up in Asakusa and Ningyocho, and the small stores that had existed in the past gradually disappeared as large buildings were erected. I think that the loss of the atmosphere was a major change in the landscape.
●Chef Taira, where are you from?
（Taira）Actually, I was born in Asakusa, too! My mother’s family owned a Chinese restaurant called Shyu-Kyoku across from the Asakusa police station, where she still works today. My father had a teppanyaki restaurant in Chofu, so I grew up in Chofu.
●So you grew up surrounded by food and drink?
（Taira）My grandmother’s family on my father’s side had a big udon shop in Gunma, so it wasn’t that I wanted to become one, rather that was all I knew!
●What inspired you to become a chef, Chef Yonezawa?
（Yonezawa）Unlike Taira-san, I was a child who liked to cook, although my family had no professional ties to cooking. I helped with supper and that was about it; cutting green onions for natto, dissolving miso in miso soup, and frying sesame seeds were my responsibilities as an elementary school student. I liked smelling aromas, so every day, I would make something. But I didn’t like to study! Then my mother said to me, “If you become a cook, you can do what you like all the time,” and I thought, “Surely if I cook, then I don’t have to study!”
●When did you first become serious about cooking?
（Yonezawa）This was really the beginning for me, so I didn’t even think about changing. I really had no intention of going to high school. I was the kind of kid who learned lessons but quit immediately and never continued anything, so naturally, my parents thought that cooking would be the same way. They wanted me to go to high school, so I entered a school that I could get into without studying. High school life was so free that I have no memories at all. We all wore different uniforms. I was still working part-time in the food and beverage industry at that time, and upon graduation, I went I worked at an izakaya (Japanese-style pub), a beer garden, a yakatabune (houseboat), and a long-established blowfish restaurant in Asakusabashi.
（Taira）I didn’t really think about working in hospitality. I went to college and did some backpacking, but while I was still in school I went to Omotesando to a restaurant called “Fujimamas”. 80% of the staff working there were foreigners, and it was the type of place you would find a foreign edition of “Globe-Trotter,” or where you’d meet a Dutchman working there for half a year whilst they were trying to travel the world by bicycle. I wasn’t serious at the time, but then I went for an interview at an Italian restaurant called “Al Solito Posto” in Minami Aoyama. I went there with a girlfriend just in time for the Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival, and I had an interview on the way there. The chef who interviewed me was very upset with me, but I passed the interview without a problem! I went to eat at an Italian restaurant in Hiroo called “ACCA” with a chef I met there during my last year of college, and I was so impressed by the restaurant that I decided to become a chef. I asked to work there right away, but was turned down, saying, “No college students allowed”. I really wanted to work there, so I tried again, and they managed to hire me, and I was allowed to work there as an employee.
●What kind of restaurant was ACCA?
（Taira）Each dish is so sacred that even now, with my deeper knowledge of cooking, it is still a special place for me. The attention to detail that goes into making each dish is so great that it has completely changed the way I think about cooking, to the point where I’ve become afraid of cooking.
（Yonezawa）I went there once myself, and it was quite a legendary restaurant.
●How did they make the food?
（Taira）There is so much attention to detail in everything, from where the plates are placed to how they are arranged, that it becomes impossible to touch the food. If we were a little late in preparing a dish, we were not allowed to serve it to the customer, and we would have to rework the dish. It made it impossible for me to cook with ease, and I’m still scared of it.
●What was cooking like for you two back then?
（Yonezawa）For me, it was a cool thing. At the time, there was an Italian cuisine boom; it was hip and in vogue. At the first Italian restaurant I worked at, Il Boccalone, in Ebisu, there were many dolled-up women, that to me really symbolized the times, so when I was 18 years old, I thought cooking was something cool.
（Taira）I have the same feeling, but in fact, I was a poor eater when I was a child. When I was in elementary school, I often left school lunches behind, and cooking was something that I didn’t really want to be involved with. Even though I lived in a house surrounded by food and drink, I was not a good eater. I could eat anything if it was frozen! So all I ate was ice cream. But when I ate pasta, I had this feeling that, hey, it tastes good, I can eat it. That was the feeling I had, and that’s when I started looking into Italian food.
●I know you trained from there and met chefs you respected, but is there anything that has stayed with you?
（Taira）As I mentioned earlier, the encounter with Tosei Hayashi, the chef at ACCA, was a big one. He taught me how to approach my work. That is all I have now. After that, I studied casual cooking, but the fundamental way of approaching my work has not changed, and that is how I want to approach my cooking every day.
（Yonezawa）Tasting. When I was still a nobody, I was once asked, “Have you tasted it?” I had been serving dishes without tasting them, and when I was told, “Don’t serve something you don’t think is good,” I realized that my cooking had become a work in progress. Since then, the act of tasting has become important to me, and when I was in New York, I was forced to do a lot of tasting. Now it has become a habit.
●That’s an unexpected answer!
（Yonezawa）It’s something very standard, but it’s also strangely a standard not everybody can achieve, which is a bad trend in the culinary industry. Tasting is the basis for maximizing performance with the resources you have. Even if you think someone else’s food is good, it’s something you can’t make yourself. When you are paid to make your own food, it is an indispensable process to ensure that the food you make is the best you can make and that it tastes the same as the food you have in your restaurant. Even if I made 100 dishes every day, the customer who comes to eat will taste just one of those 100, and it’s about whether one can compromise on that one dish. It’s an extremely obvious thing to do, but it’s surprisingly difficult.
●I think that taste, like painting, is sensory. Only by tasting the food and relying on one’s senses, can one create something that is reproducible.
（Yonezawa）Of course, it could also mean that by continually tasting the food, you are preserving its flavor, but many people may not be able to do so.
（Taira）By tasting, I can take responsibility. I can check a dish just before serving it with the latest version of my senses. I think that skipping a taste test is the same as skipping the cooking process.
（Yonezawa）If someone says it doesn’t taste good, we can only say that it doesn’t match because we are confident in what we have served. I would like to make everyone say it tastes good, but that’s impossible. We have no choice but to say that it can’t be helped. If it is something I am satisfied with, it does not hurt my pride.
●Chef Yonezawa, you went to the U.S, right? Why did you go to New York?
（Yonezawa）I was 22 years old, so I was a bit intimidated, but I went there as a language student because I wanted to try living abroad, not as a trainee or for work. Eventually, I had to earn money, so I started cooking, but it was also different from Japan, so I gradually started looking for different restaurants.
●From your perspective as a customer, were there any gaps between Japan and the US?
（Yonezawa）Americans have a strong desire to enjoy themselves, which creates a good atmosphere in the restaurant, and the culture of eating out is deeply rooted, so I felt a difference in values in that area. Their reactions are also exaggerated, which makes me happy!
●What prompted you to return to Japan?
（Yonezawa）My brother’s marriage was a big factor, but I also achieved the goals I had set, so I decided to return home.
●What goals did you have in mind?
（Yonezawa）I had a vague idea of doing something that no Japanese had ever done before, so when I heard that no Japanese had ever been a sous chef at Jean-Georges, a Michelin-starred restaurant, I set that as my goal.
●How has being a sous chef changed you?
（Yonezawa）The way of thinking has changed. It’s similar to the US business mindset and there is now a focus on numbers. We have become more business-like rather than craftsman-like.
●Chef Taira’s family owned a teppanyaki restaurant. What was it like to open your own Italian restaurant, “Don Bravo”?
（Taira）My father ran a teppanyaki restaurant for 40 years in a place called Kokuryo, and even though the restaurant moved three times in the same town due to redevelopment, it was still a place where regular customers followed him. My father was a man who loved to please his customers more than he loved to cook, so he worked very hard to come up with menu names. For example, there was a menu item called “Jealousy,” because it contained baked rice cakes that could make one jealous.
※ In Japanese, Jealousy (yakimochi) can also be read as “baked rice cake”
Customers would be embarrassed, so they would look away and point at the menu while ordering. But that’s the kind of thing that made my father a fan. Since I was a child, I would sit at the counter and observe him. And when he passed the restaurant onto me, for the first six months the customers would give him slack for giving the restaurant to me! It was half in jest, but I could feel their frustration. That was when I was about 33 years old.
●And that was the first restaurant?
（Taira）Well, it was around that time that I became independent, but I was a chef in Mishuku at the time. Many of my regular customers were from that area, so I was looking for a place near there, but it had been a while since I had the chance to go back to my parent’s house, so I was having dinner at the counter when I remembered that we were a teppanyaki restaurant. I spoke to them and they told me that they would let me take over if it was after six months.
●They had been running this shop for generations, right? How did you manage to get them to step down?
（Taira）It was an important shop that had been running since my grandma’s generation, so my grandma, who lived upstairs, would sometimes come down in the middle of the night and cry, telling me that the shop would vanish if I didn’t take the helm. She told me that I should take over the shop.
●But your grandmother is content now, right?
（Taira）Yes. It has been 10 years since then.
●By the way, is there a place for chefs to exchange information?
（Yonezawa）There was a little bit of that. I would meet with my Italian seniors for Italian cuisine.
（Taira）Three or four years ago, we had a kind of study group in the middle of the night, and I met Yonezawa-san there, but it was because of COVID.
●Did things get tough due to COVID?
（Yonezawa）On the contrary, there were a lot of good things that came out of COVID. It was an extraordinary situation, but I don’t think it was just restaurants. Looking back over the past 20 years, we had the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, the simultaneous terrorist attacks, the Lehman Shock, the Great East Japan Earthquake, and Covid. Something happens about once every five years. Restaurants are the ones that are most affected by such events, but that span may become shorter and shorter, and I feel that we need to create a business model that can cope with such changes.
●And that the food and beverage industry has to be flexible enough to overcome the changing times?
（Yonezawa）It’s like working hard for five years to save money and then spitting it out five years later, but you have to think about that as well. I think this was most evident during Corona times. After all, it is different from a natural disaster. I came back from France a few days ago, and I wish people could think for themselves as Europeans do, but in Japan, even if the prime minister says you don’t have to wear a mask, you will get a disapproving look even if you don’t. That is the kind of diligence that Japanese people have. I feel that this kind of diligence is backfiring.
●In terms of how you built your shop with a close eye on Corona, what did you actually feel and how did you act when you were running the shop?
（Taira）We simply had fewer customers, and the same thing that the public was reacting to was happening right before our eyes, but we opened our second restaurant at that time, so we did things flexibly, and we were able to continue without sales dropping, so I think that was a good thing. I was able to do it with the advice of everyone, but it certainly changed the way I worked.
●How has your working style changed?
（Taira）Until now, even after midnight, we had study sessions and other things to do from there, but now it has become the norm to leave at midnight, and no one can go back there until the following morning. So my mindset has changed.
（Yonezawa）It depends on the style of the restaurant. Is it five days a week or three days a week? The restaurant I opened this summer, “No Code,” is completely referral-only, with only 8 customers a day, about 10 days a month, so we closed around 1:00 am yesterday, and I think that’s fine. I can have a lazy drink with my customers, and I do it quite freely. In the past, I used to think that I wanted to go home early, but when it comes to my own restaurant, I don’t think that way anymore. When you can think about things as if they are your own, your mindset changes.
●By thinking of the shop and the staff who work there as their own, the atmosphere and feelings are likely to change.
（Taira）We have a lot of staff, so I’m fine with it, but when I think to myself that my staff would probably want to go home early, I still want to let them go home early. I want to keep the staff motivated and I want them to enjoy working. I’m starting to think that by doing so, I’ll feel good as a result.
●The hours you work also change your mindset, whether it’s five or three a week.
（Yonezawa）With the way I work now, I can’t work five days a week!
（Taira）Amazingly, they can make it work with a three-day workweek. Everyone is working because it is not possible without a five-day workweek!. But if it were three days a week, I could work until 2:00 am.
（Yonezawa）I wanted to create a balance where I could work hard if it was three times a week. It motivates me and keeps me from getting stuck in a cooking rut. It’s really a good thing.
●It means that the flexible way of working should be reflected in shop development and cuisine in line with the times, without being too bound by traditional ways of working.
（Yonezawa）In the past, store rents were incurred 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so it was considered a good idea to stay open as long as possible. But nowadays, prices and labor costs have gone up, and when you consider the hours and motivation of staff, I don’t think that is the case. It’s easier to have personnel who cannot work every day, and productivity would be higher if they could concentrate on working shorter business days and shorter working hours, that would be much better.
●Like wearing masks, it’s hard to get rid of the previous mindset.
（Yonezawa）It’s not limited to Japanese people, but everyone is afraid of change. Even if I suggest that we do something like this starting tomorrow, they immediately start looking for reasons why we can’t do it. Instead of making a presentation about what can’t be done, I think about how much better it would be if we could look forward to the future.
●You supervise the menus at KABEAT., but how did you approach the creation of these menus without being in the kitchen yourself?
（Taira）Although it would be a dish that I would not make myself, I was given the opportunity to put my name on the menu, so I imagined a dish that would be linked to this place and that I could maximize after seeing the situation and the strength of the staff. The members gathered here were of the same age, and the chefs were known for creating dishes that transcended genres, so at first, I couldn’t tell whose dish it was when I looked at any of the dishes, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to choose from KABEAT’s menu, which is full of appealing items. I thought it would be easier for customers to choose from the Italian dishes if we simply added our own nuances to the menu, such as pasta and pizza, without being overly creative.
●How did you feel when you actually tried the food?
（Taira）I have reworked the menu four times now, and the quality has definitely improved, and I think there is still more that can be done to create something that is uniquely KABEAT. I think the concept of focusing on producers is very good, and without changing the concept, we can have dishes that make the most of KABEAT’s standard ingredients, and then add the dishes of our favorite chefs to them. I would like to propose more and more ways to enjoy KABEAT in this way.
●Chef Yonezawa, you’ve been working on the menu. How did you feel when you supervised the project?
（Yonezawa）When we opened THE BURN in Aoyama, it was a great time. Just as I was thinking that this was the way to go, Corona knocked me down to the bottom of the heap. However, I think that KABEAT will form a style of restaurant that fits the times ahead. That’s why I’m really looking forward to next year and beyond. The remote clientele may not return, but we have received many positive responses to the menu we supervised, and I have a feeling that this kind of restaurant will gain recognition and transmit the “uniqueness” of the restaurant in the future.
●If you were to look five years into the future as to what your next shop should look like, what kind of shop would you aim for?
（Taira）I think it’s fine to have both small and large spaces. Each has its own merits, and I think customers should be able to choose the one they like best. That is why I launched a second brand, “CRAZY PIZZA,” which can reach a wider audience, while also operating “Don Bravo”. Moreover, since we are developing a pizza shop rather than a restaurant, training becomes much simpler. We are the same in the sense that we deliver delicious food, but we try to have both sides of the coin.
●Even if the pursuit of good food remains the same, the increasing number of options for working is likely to change the way shops are run in the future.
（Taira）In both good and bad ways, the number of options has increased, and although some people are not suited for the job, I think that unless managers are willing to accept a variety of people, they will not be able to attract new employees, and they will have to maximize their performance.
●I know you have a lot more to talk about when it comes to cooking, but what situations do you think would be interesting to see happen through KABEAT?
（Yonezawa）We all want to come to KABEAT at the beginning of the New Year! I want to share various menus and have fun at the study sessions in a more casual atmosphere.
●We often hear the phrase ‘study group’, but what exactly do you do there?
（Taira）What we often do is decide on an ingredient theme, for example, if it is apples, we make a prototype menu using apples several months in advance, and on the day of the event, we share our opinions across the counter as we each present our prototypes. If we could gather here in such an atmosphere, I think new ideas would be born. We have good materials and a good place. Now it’s up to us to find a way to handle it in harmony with the changing times. In the end, I think the way we see things is important, so we need to continue to stand in the store and make use of our on-site experience, and reflect it in the KABEAT store.
●How long did it take you to develop the actual menu?
（Yonezawa）I have a wide range of genres, so if anything, prototyping doesn’t take that much time, but when I look at Taira’s menu, I am still curious because he delves into ideas that I don’t have, within the framework of Italian cuisine. The combinations, the flavors, “What kind of dish is it this time!” I wonder to myself.
（Taira）It’s the same for me. I’m still curious about it, and cooking has always been something I’ve always wanted.
●KABEAT is putting chefs side by side with us.
（Yonezawa）That’s right. So I’m grateful for that.
（Taira）It was a year that flew by.
●From your early days to the present, what new possibilities do you see when looking at ingredients on a plate?
（Yonezawa）The trends differ with the times, but I believe that the dishes we want to make will also differ.
（Taira）Similar to fashion, complicated things are being stripped down to simplicity, and the classics are being reevaluated. We would like to go to an old-fashioned restaurant like Boccalone on our days off, and we would be happy to have a dish that is exactly what we imagine is on the menu, like prosciutto and figs with cured ham.
（Yonezawa）That is partly due to my age! On the other hand, I also feel that there is too much information, so I get tired if I am too creative.
（Taira）Then of course our own cuisine will change, but we also have our own colors. It’s a balance, isn’t it?
（Yonezawa）Information is individuality. So, I might prefer dishes that have relatively little individuality. However, I am also a chef, so I am trying to create individuality somewhere. It’s a contradiction.
●So it’s all about balance?
（Taira）The simpler you make your cuisine, the more you focus on the ingredients, but this will drive up the price range and naturally narrow down the number of people who will be able to enjoy it. So, one of the chef’s pleasures is to let people enjoy his cuisine in a casual way without going too far, so we are talking about creating excitement with the combination of ingredients.
（Yonezawa）It’s the nature of a chef to want to add something different from others. If you get into it, it becomes your personality, and if you don’t, you end up doing something unnecessary!
Born in Tokyo in 1980. He has loved cooking since he was a child, and after graduating from high school, he gained experience at the Italian restaurant “Il Boccalone” in Ebisu, Tokyo. Later, at the age of 22, he moved to the U.S. and became sous chef at the three-star French restaurant “Jean-Georges” in New York City. In 2022, he established his first owner-operated restaurant “No Code” in Nishi-Azabu. He is not only a chef, but also a food educator, product developer, and food culture expert, offering multifaceted proposals.
Born in Tokyo in 1979. Although he was born into a food and beverage family, he was not very good at food. Inspired by Italian cuisine through pasta, he decided to become a chef. After working at ACCA, an Italian restaurant in Hiroo, he went to Italy. In 2012, he took over his father’s Italian restaurant “Don Bravo” in his hometown of Kokuryo, Chofu City, and in 2020, he opened pizza restaurant “CRAZY PIZZA”. This year, “Don Bravo” was selected as one of the “Destination Restaurants 2022” by the English-language newspaper “The Japan Times,” and “CRAZY PIZZA” was selected as a Bib Gourmand in the “Michelin Guide Tokyo 2023”.
Text : Jun Kuramoto
Photo : Naoto Date
Interview : Jun Kuramoto
Masakazu Taira・Fumio Yonezawa
caveman - Chef Hishiya
Interesting people in Kabutocho
caveman – Chef Hishiya
(Taira) I often go to “Kabi” in Meguro, and even though they are young, they have established their own unique worldview and create dishes that only they can make, and I respect them very much. I am always impressed every time I go there. I have not been to “caveman” yet, so I would like to go there next time.
(Yonezawa) I tried going there a few times too, but I couldn’t get in because it happened to be closed or full. I sometimes see the chef’s posts on Instagram and I want to try to visit again.