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Shohei Manago
Shohei Manago

2022.01.31

Shohei Manago

Chef Patissier / Chef Chocolatier at ‘teal’

Getting closer with customers and the city
Creating meaning through new sweets

In the north side of Kabutocho comes a splash of blue-green. Located in the former residence of Eiichi Shibusawa, "teal" is a chocolate and ice cream store created by chef-pâtissier, Shohei Manago and owner-pâtissier of ‘ease’, Keisuke Oyama. The two have combined their personalities to create a fresh and new approach to making sweets. We sat down with Mr. Manago to talk about his childhood, growing up with nature, his thoughts on ‘teal’, and the distinct moments that defined his skills and creativity as a pastry chef.

●I heard that you are from Shingu City, Wakayama Prefecture, near Kumano Kodo? What kind of place is it? What do you usually say to people when they ask you to describe it?
It’s a place that feels very far away. It’s probably the farthest place from Tokyo by land in Japan. It takes about seven and a half hours! It’s a very isolated island, and access to the island is very difficult. There are many good things to do there, but it takes a long time to get there. I lived there from the time I was born until I was in high school. It felt like a very empty place.

●If there’s nothing there, does that mean that the nature is very rich?
That’s right. I used to fish a lot. Ever since I was in elementary school, I would go fishing after school and stay up until nightfall before going home. I was close to both the sea and the river, so I did both sea fishing and river fishing. It was normal to catch eels and other fish. The sea was so clean that there were coral reefs. When I moved to the city, I realized that it was not normal to have that amount of ocean and nature around you.

●When you look back, do you feel that this is a defining element of who you are?
In a place like where I lived, where there is a lot of nature, the gradation and differences in color are much greater than in the city. And it completely changes again from morning to night. So it made me more aware of different types of colors. When you go deep into the mountains, there are so many different kinds of trees, mushrooms, and other things. Living in nature also meant I would eat a wide variety of foods. I would pick up things like butterbur and eat it with sugar at home. Now that I think about it, I realize that it was the same as eating rhubarb or butterbur with sugar in France.

●Have you been interested in creating and eating sweets since you were a child?
Yes! I had the well-known cooking comic “Cooking Papa” at home. I used to read it and would make all the things that I wanted to eat. There was an episode in “Cooking Papa” about chives, so I began growing chives and would then cook things with them. For dinner, I didn’t give requests to my parents for what I wanted to eat, but would rather make it myself. I started doing this around the third grade. At some point, I was raised only by my mother, but she was so busy with work, so I was left to my own devices.

●Rather than cooking together with your mother, you tended to cook by yourself?
It was more like, I would make whatever I wanted to eat when I was hungry. I’d look at a book and see what was in it and then just start making it. Also, there was a time when I caught too many fish and my mother got very angry with me. When I came home with 10 big bonito, she asked me what I was going to do with them. I rinsed, boiled, and froze them. She didn’t teach me how to cut them, so I had to look it up in a book. When I was in elementary school, I used to make marshmallows as a gift for White Day, or rather, I was forced to make them because my friends gave some to me on Valentine’s Day. I also had to make my own birthday cakes!

●The cake for your own birthday?
My mom’s birthday and mine are only one day apart. There is a sponge cake mix called “Monton” that anyone can make, as long as you have eggs. But I had been making a lot of mistakes, or rather, I thought it didn’t taste good. Then I somehow realized that I needed to mix the ingredients more, so I whipped it up really hard and it turned out delicious. And I’ve been doing that ever since!

●I heard that the ‘teal’ caramel bar is a reworking of the caramel chocolate bar that you liked as a child! Have you liked eating sweets since you were a kid?
I was the kind of kid who would always go to the candy store and have a hard time deciding which candy to buy with my allowance. My grandmother owned a newspaper shop, so I was forced to deliver newspapers from about the time I was in my second year of middle school. So I would use my earnings to pay for my own snacks and lunches. I delivered newspapers until I was in my second year of high school, and that was my allowance until then. I did it almost every day except on holidays, and I only had a few days off per year! It was very early in the morning, starting at 5:00 a.m., so I think I did pretty well.

●So you were able to keep up that schedule for three years?
I went to a preparatory school and then when I was in my third year of high school, I had to decide whether or not to take the entrance exam and also what to do afterward. I tried studying for exams, but I got bored after about three days and thought it was absolutely pointless. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to use all of it for the rest of my life. And when I reexamined what I really wanted to do, I decided to go into the culinary field.

●I heard that after graduating from high school, you went on to Osaka Tsuji Gakuen College of Cooking and Confectionery.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into confectionery or cooking, so I wanted to choose a place that could offer both. In the end, there was only one place I could go. During my two years of school, we spent three-quarters of the time learning cooking and the remainder learning about confectionery. Actually, during that time I didn’t attend school so much. I was mostly working part-time at a pastry shop called ‘A Quatre’ in Osaka. I would work until the last train after school. I guess it’s probably closed by now, but it was a very strict place.

●What made you choose that shop?
It was the only place I could find a part-time role where I could make sweets. Usually, pastry shops don’t have much work after school hours, just cleaning up. But this store was located in Kitashinchi, so it was open until late at night. I was making sweets until 11:00 pm when the store would close. It was an area similar to Ginza in Tokyo, so there were times when drunk people would come in and buy cakes at the end of the day.

●Did you learn a lot about sweets during that time, being at the store and attending school?
I was able to learn quite a bit. Also, I was in charge of food prep. The part-timers were allowed to prep food, but it was very strict. However, the owner-chef of the restaurant promised me that if I worked hard for two years, he would introduce me to anywhere in Tokyo or even France. At first, I was thinking of going to France, but the owner-chef said that it would be better for me to study in Tokyo after I had acquired the proper skills, rather than going to France right away, so I decided to stay in Tokyo. I didn’t look for a job but just wandered around Tokyo for about a month after graduating from school. During that time, I would get calls from the owner-chef saying that he could introduce me to many places.

●You were able to go and visit the stores yourself in Tokyo?
I even got in touch with Toshi Yoroizuka whilst I was still a student! After looking around at many different places I joined ‘Criollo’*1. At the time, ‘Criollo’ didn’t take new graduates, so I had to take an exam to get in. ‘A Quatre’ was very strict, but as it was my first job I thought it was just normal. I went to ‘Criollo’ thinking that they would also be really strict too, but it wasn’t at all. Actually, I didn’t find the working hours or the salary to be too demanding at all. At that time, I had about eight days off a month. But I didn’t have any money and so I couldn’t really enjoy that time, so I decided to challenge myself by entering a competition. When I was competing I thought it was a way to slowly level up. So I challenged myself in various ways, and in the end, I was able to go to Asia to compete.

※1 Criollo
A patisserie run by internationally acclaimed French pastry chef Santos Antoine.

●Tell us about the time you started participating and winning various competitions. Was it important for you to expand your relationships and to create new goals during that time?
I won the Japan Belcolade Award for the first time in 2015, and there was an award ceremony at a hotel in Urawa. There were a few reporters, but it was mainly an industry event, so it didn’t have a very big impact on my life at all. Later, in 2016, I won the “Top of Patissier” competition, and that was a competition more widely recognized, so it had more of an impact. They even did a close-up of me with TV interviews and such. It was around that time that I realized: doing things only within the confines of the industry would not get me anywhere. So, after that, I started thinking about entering more competitions with a larger global reach. During that time, I was introduced to ‘Pascal Le Gac’*2, who was going to open a restaurant in Japan. I began working there as a chef and it had a great impact on me because the restaurant garnered international attention and allowed me to advertise myself as a chef.

※2 Pascal Le Gac
The main store is located in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the suburbs of Paris, and the world’s first branch, ‘Pascal Le Gac Tokyo’, was opened in Akasaka in 2019.

●Can you tell us a bit about your 10 years at Criollo?
The chef there was French, and he told me that it didn’t matter how young I was, as long as I had the ability to work, so I decided to work hard. If I worked hard, my salary would go up and I could get a position in the restaurant. We had to think for ourselves and make the workplace more comfortable to work in. For example, we had to take measures to finish early and use machines that were not commonly used in Japan. We were given the opportunity to work with the latest technology and incorporate it into our work, as well as learn how to handle people and how to be an organization. I did a lot of things that I thought a normal pastry shop could not do.

●During your time at ‘Pascal Le Gac’, you helped set up the world’s first branch in Akasaka, and your flower chocolate work series became a hot topic on social media and in the media at large.
‘Pascal Le Gac’ was a company that knew the importance of media. The company that ran events and media was ‘UHA Taste Sugar’, the same company that produces famous snacks such as ‘Pucchio’ and other products. They were very corporate in their approach, so I was able to learn a lot from them. They had an interesting management style and the way they use media to promote their products was good to learn. I was able to make my work go viral there. I was able to go to France four times a year and was allowed to visit lots of different places for market research. It was a really big patisserie, but it was a private store. I learned about the strength of a company when it goes from a private store to a corporation.

●What happened once you left ‘Pascal Le Gac’? Was it at that time you began preparing to open your own business?
Yes, I left in November of 2020 and joined ‘eat creator’*3. When I joined the company, I hadn’t decided on ‘teal’ yet. At first, Mr. Oyama and I were talking about becoming a chocolate shop as a part of ‘ease’, but then we started talking about starting our own brand. But then, in 2021, I was approached with an offer on a place and we began discussing the possibility of opening ‘teal’ there. We discussed what we should do since we were both in the same company and no one would benefit if we were in direct competition with one another, so we decided that it would be better to create a sister store or an offshoot of ‘ease’. That’s when we decided on the concept of a chocolate and ice cream store, that would become a workplace for the two of us.

※3 eat creator
An innovation and incubation business in the field of food and hospitality. They are also involved in the store development of ‘ease’ in Kabutocho.

●Had you visited Kabutocho before opening ‘teal’?
I had been here several times since ‘ease’ was established as I was helping out here and there. In my mind, it had already become a trendy town, so it always felt like something was happening. K5 was a little hard to enter on my first visit. But once I started going to places like K5, I found it to be a very comfortable place to live.

We looked at a lot of places and collected a lot of good ideas, and then we put them into action.

●What were the first steps you took once you and Oyama had decided to start a chocolate and ice cream store together?
The designers and I just talked and talked. First of all, we had to find out what kind of products would be popular and what measures we could take to avoid any conflict with ‘ease’. So many of the products here are very different from ‘ease’. Also, it took us a long time to decide on the name. I also had to think about the packaging, and whether or not we actually needed it in the first place. We spent a lot of time talking about the size of the store, whether it should be this big or a little smaller. We did that for more than half a year.

●Was it good that you took your time and had the room to discuss each other’s perspectives?
Yes, definitely! It probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t talked about it. We first met when I did a course on desserts at an event called ‘sugar’ at the end of 2019. Until then, we were both pastry chefs, but from different fields, so we knew each other but had never spoken or met. Before that, I went to eat at ‘Cynthia’s’ where Oyama was working, and from there we began to build a relationship. Later, when we were sitting next to each other at a party, we talked about how we could do something like this at an event, and we decided to do it together.

●As you were preparing to open the business, did you understand each other’s ideas and what you wanted to do?
We looked at a lot of places and collected a lot of good ideas, and then we put them into action. Both Oyama and I had never made sweets before, such as soft cookies, which can be made delicious in a French style, but surprisingly we had never done anything like that before, so it was really trial and error. This is especially true for doughnuts. Doughnuts are not something that pastry chefs make, and it’s not something that you can learn from just anyone. So I went to doughnut shops, ate them, thought about them, and did a lot of research. I wondered why they tasted so good and how to make them less greasy. The texture should be chunky, but also fluffy and crispy, so I did a lot of prototyping.

I've always said that just one plus one is meaningless, rather, you should focus on multiplying things over and over again.

●What do you think are your strengths when it comes to working as a team at ‘teal’?
Simply being able to consult with one another is one of our strengths. And the two of us are able to create something that is a perfect combination of our personalities. I’ve always said that just one plus one is meaningless, rather, you should focus on multiplying things over and over again. Oyama and I are quite similar in our way of thinking. We are both very flexible in terms of taste and what tastes good, so we have been on the same page from the beginning. We usually talk about trivial things like which instant noodle tastes the best!

●Is there anything in particular that you were especially conscious of when designing the space?
I think the most important thing was, how to make the best use of the building. It’s a nice building and after the original building was torn down, I kept thinking about how to make the best use of the space in this slightly torn-down state. Also, how to make the most of the arched windows that let the sunshine through. The natural light is so beautiful I thought it could be something that becomes the heart of the shop. As for the atmosphere, the flowers in ‘ease’ were dried, so I decided to use live greenery here to offset that. The space at ‘ease’ is fully open, but for chocolate and ice cream, it is important to control the temperature, so I had a partition placed in the store.

●I felt that your driving force and passion for making sweets is that you want the people who eat your sweets to be moved in some way, to enjoy them, and to feel joy. That’s why I think it’s important for you to be able to see the customers, the way they eat, the way they buy, and even their expressions.
The sales floor and the kitchen were completely separate in my previous store, so I couldn’t tell what kind of customers were buying my products. When I worked at ‘Pascal Le Gac’, the kitchen was completely open and visible and it made me realize I preferred that style of layout. I thought it would be better for the staff to be able to see everything in the open so that they don’t lose sight of what they are doing. When they see that what they are making has value and that there are so many people who come to visit, they understand that there is a big difference between making something with a clear understanding and making it just for the sake of it. Now, all the production staff can see how well the products are selling, and we can listen to customers’ feedback and make changes more immediately.

For people to want to come back again, the taste and presentation have to be spot on, and I think that we chefs have to be powerful chefs.

●Also, nowadays, people will choose restaurants by posts they see on social media. Do you keep up to date with this and follow those online conversations closely?
Yes, I look at it a lot. Both Oyama and I do a lot of ego-searching, not to see if anything bad is written, but to see what the overall reaction is. When we started ‘teal’, we were working from the base of ‘ease’ and we had more members in the back office, so we were able to run the business smoothly. And we received very few bad reviews or comments. So we need to keep this up, and rather than just keep the standards the way they are, we’re trying to pick up on the things that were insanely delicious and see what sticks. I think that if we stop at “people come here because it’s fashionable,” we will probably be swept away by trends and fads. If we don’t make it clear that people are coming because the sweets we make are delicious, they will stop coming.

●In a kind of “Let’s create something of value and continue to do so” kind of way?
I believe that if we, the younger generation, can create something new and valuable, and if it spreads, it can create more work and jobs in the future. There are many things in this industry that are old and unchanged, and it makes me wonder why. There is a lot of pressure to do something. It’s not like that now, though. When I became the best in Japan, I was 26 years old, and the pressure was pretty strong.

●You mentioned that you felt the excellence of the company during your time at ‘Pasca Le Lugac’, but now that you are still a part of ‘eat creator’, what do you see as the differences and ideal aspects of the company?
The biggest difference is whether or not the company stands up for the chef or not. Right now, it’s a company that pushes the chef to the front, or rather, doesn’t come out from behind. When I talked to Oyama, he told me about the company’s policy and I said, “That’s great. That means we have to take on a lot of responsibility, or rather, we have to do a lot of work on our own, so we have to see how far we can go.”

●Perhaps it’s because you are interested in social media, but I also got the impression that you are focused on the presentation of your sweets as well?
I’m actually curious about how it looks. If I can’t feel firsthand that the reaction is slower than usual, if I leave it as it is, it will probably shift. For example, if I were to suddenly offer French pastries, I would probably lose touch with the atmosphere of this town. I also thought that the street in front of the store acts like a route that people take to stroll to Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi. There are a lot of families here, and on Saturday and Sunday mornings, grandparents come to have ice cream. They take their time to read a book, but when it gets a little crowded, they leave. When they do, I feel like I’ve created something good for the town.

●What are your future goals and what kind of store do you want ‘teal’ to be?
We haven’t decided yet, but we hope that our customers will come back every day. We want to create a place where people only come once and then never visit again. For people to want to come back again, the taste and presentation have to be spot on, and I think that we chefs have to be powerful chefs. Also, I want to experiment and do things differently. The number of patisseries are still very low, so we’re going to increase the number from here. I’m thinking of doing a lot of different things in Kabutocho.

Shohei Manago

Shohei Manago

Born in Wakayama Prefecture in 1988. After working for ‘A Quatre’ while studying at Osaka Tsuji Gakuen College of Cooking and Confectionery, he worked as a sous chef at ‘Criollo’ and as a chef patissier at Tameike’s ‘Pascal Le Gac’. He has been awarded many prizes at domestic and international competitions, such as winning the Japan Belcolade Award in 2015, the Top of Patissier Award at the 2016 Japan Cake Show, and the Best Chocolatier Award at the 2017 Top of Patissier in Asia. In 2021 he opened ‘teal’ Kabutocho with Keisuke Ohyama, the owner, and patissier of ‘ease’.

Text : Takeshi Okuno

Photo : Tomohiro Mazawa

Interview : Takeshi Okuno


Shohei Manago

Chef Patissier / Chef Chocolatier at ‘teal’

Mr. Norimasa Yamamoto

President, Heiwa Brewery

Interesting people in Kabutocho

Mr. Norimasa Yamamoto
President, Heiwa Brewery

I asked an old classmate who runs a cake shop in my hometown if there was any good sake in the area. This question became a type of relay, with people asking other people and so on. It ended up with President Yamamoto of Heiwa Shuzo. After that, I heard from someone at Heiwa Real Estate that the Heiwa Doburoku Kabutocho Brewery was going to open in the area. I happened to hear about it, and I feel a very deep connection. I hope we can do something together.