Chef Daniel Calvert is now one of the best chefs in Tokyo, but also in the world. Nothing surprising, given the number of kilometers he traveled to access his own kitchen: the SÉZANNE restaurant. Born in Surrey, England, this celebrated artisan has spent plenty of time cooking in London, Paris, and Hong Kong, not to mention a stellar stint under Thomas Keller in Perc, Manhattan.
“I wanted to work at the French Laundry, but they never accepted me, so I ended up there instead,” jokes Daniel Calvert. “It wasn’t inevitable,” he laughs, “it was New York or Yountville.”
Either way, it was just a precursor to the French restaurant he now runs in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi. In just a year and a half, it has already developed its most beautiful peerage: two Michelin stars and the best-rated restaurant in all of Japan, according to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants (which announced its latest ranking at the end of March). ; SÉZANNE s ranked second).
What effect did this success have on Daniel Calvert? Well, it doesn’t seem like he’s lost his sense of humility. In an exclusive interview with Forbes, the talented tastemaker revealed that he is happiest when he pleases his guests. And that the Japanese concept of kaizen (continuous improvement) is of great value, as is the combination of chicken and chardonnay.
He details this specific pairing below, along with more general ideas on how to pair food and wine. It also acknowledges, definitively, what Michelin recognition really means to most chefs.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Congratulations on all these achievements. What is the significance of these bonuses? Do you spend a lot of time on it?
Daniel Calvert: “I think as a young chef you place a lot of importance on rewards. I don’t want to generalize but for me, personally, it’s been a driving force in knowing where I want to work and who I want to work for. It’s even a determining factor of where one wants to live We choose the cities we want to work in depending on whether there is a Michelin guide or not.I think that’s a fair enough statement for many chefs.These days it’s not about justification but rather an indication of your performance, how your guests enjoy the experience, and how it’s done Receive it; that’s the most important thing. You shouldn’t take things too seriously. But if you get two Michelin stars, you’re doing something well. If they don’t give you three stars, maybe you need to do something a little better [rires]. As for the ranking of the world’s 50 best restaurants, it’s an overview of what’s in vogue.
This is not a definitive list of the best restaurants, which is impossible anyway. It is rather a Zeitgeist What is happening in the world at any time. It’s a great sign that we’re making an impact in Japan and that people in the region are talking about us.
Tell us about the evolution of lists and how you put the items together.
CD: “The most important thing is to stay seasonal and relevant. I think Japan is very seasonal. Ingredients are in season sometimes for two weeks or so sometimes you get one batch or delivery of something very small. So the menu has to be flexible and we have to change a lot, a lot. In some Sometimes during the day. I don’t consider this to be a one-off list in progress. Rather, it’s a cycle that tracks the seasons throughout the year. We start in January and little by little something falls out and gets replaced as it becomes available. I’m not an R&D expert, I don’t spend hours on Dish testing thousands of times, wasting good products.Once we have something, we incorporate it into the menu as much as possible, and then we improve it over and over again.”
actually. And according to Japanese culture, I think there are more than 4 seasons, right?
CD: “I think there should be 24! So no project is short term. It’s the education of a lifetime. You only have such a small window to work with them, and you have to spend each year thinking and documenting how you can do better the next year.”
It seems to refer to the Japanese concept of “kaizen,” which is always finding ways to improve your skills.
CD: “That’s just right. We’re making a particular sauce this year, but I know when I go back to it, I’ll have a whole year to absorb how to make it. There’s a constant absorption of information and material, which one then builds into one’s way of doing things.”
Are Japanese cooking techniques incorporated into SéZANNE’s literature?
CD: “We are a European restaurant in Japan. This is the most important thing to remember. Customers who come here want European food in Japan. However, we do use umami. We skillfully incorporate dashi. I season my dishes a lot less than I did in Europe, because we use it to bring out the flavour. The slow, prolonged cooking of clams for three hours, for example, rather than the reaction of the clams, which would result in a heavier product. It’s a perfect fit for French cooking, because if I could really make use of the essence of a clam, my Vongole sauce would be so much better. »
Tell us about the art of wine pairing. What do you expect from wine when encountering one of your dishes?
CD: “It’s an ongoing conversation with the sommelier, Nobuhide Otsuka. We’ve been together for two and a half years. It’s up to him to understand my tastes. The most important thing for me is to let him be as creative as I am in the kitchen. I want to give him that freedom. As for what I’m looking for in a bargain What, it’s about compatibility, not any kind of polarization. Some bartenders try to find things that are contradictory. I want people to find something that complements. You also have to focus on the sauce. If there is no integration with the sauce, all the benefit of the agreement is lost. It has to be delicious. This What interests me, is that it is delicious and innovative.”
So, a delicious wine will always go well with a savory dish?
CD: “Absolutely. I only supervise the use of premium products.”
Do you have a favorite chord that you always refer to?
CD: “We have a dish on our menu, drunken chicken, poached in yellow wine. It’s a great deal that I think is perfect. The wine is a Chardonnay from the Jura. It was produced by Jean-François Janevat, one of the master winegrowers of the Jura, in a very natural and biodynamic style. After all The hype it was about, there are no more bottles available. There are other Chardonnays from Jura that work, but this is the one I would pick first. In fact, when I made this dish, that was the wine I had in mind. This is actually reverse engineering The match is just perfect.”
It looks like an iconic dish. How did I get here?
CD: I’ve lived in Hong Kong for five years and have eaten a lot of Chinese food there. It is macerated in yellow wine – an oxidized French yellow wine that is fermented in an open barrel. It is closer to Shaoxing wine, which originated in China, where this dish originally comes from, in Shanghai. We wanted to replace it with something less sweet. We buy chicken in Nagano and marinate it for a week and boil it for about 20 minutes. It may look like a merger. But the cross between the French and the Chinese works so well that it could be a classic French dish. I hope that happens. This shows that it is always possible to take inspiration from elsewhere and create a new classic. »
Do you usually associate sake with one of your dishes?
CD: “Maybe it’s a bridge too far for me in SéZANNE. I know the sommelier likes to wear it from time to time, but it’s hard for me. I try to stay in the European wine business.”
Translated article from the American magazine Forbes – Author: Brad Jaffe
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