|LIFE IN JAPAN
Niels Frederik Walther
|Photo by Maki Nibayashi
Chef for the Danish Ambassador
Time in Japan:
Where are you from?
Why are you here?
To cook. Cooking is my life and to cook for the Danish Embassy in a foreign country is a
rare opportunity. To take very rich Danish recipes which use a lot of cream and butter,
and mix them with the lowest fat content cuisine in the world - Japan - has been a great
How did you become the head chef for the ambassador?
I used to cook for the Danish Queen and I' been to other embassies around the world. In
Europe, I'm a well-known chef; when you've cooked for the Danish Queen, you can pretty
much cook anywhere you want to!
What's your impression of Japan?
It was culture shock in the beginning, I'll have to admit that. It took me about 14 days
to get over my jet lag. It was very, very different. Japanese culture is one of the most
interesting and beautiful cultures in the world. It has so many values that they
desperately try to get rid of by dyeing their hair white or blond. But it's very
How about the food?
It's exciting and delicate. Minimalism is also very trendy in Europe right now. I have
tried to mix European dishes and use some Japanese ingredients and the result is great.
Expensive but nice. Fusion restaurants seem to be the "in" thing nowadays but I
think it will be difficult for younger people in twenty years to know what food came from
what country because everything is so mixed. Development is good, but I think there are
too many foods being mixed that aren't supposed to be. You have to remember that food is
seasonal. By mixing everything, you lose the seasonal essence of each dish.
What was your weirdest experience in Japan?
I swim four kilometers every day and I joined a fitness club in Ebisu. When I first came
to Japan, I was completely bald and I also have a tattoo on my back. I was not familiar
with the rules so I went to the fitness center and paid an enormous fee to join the club.
On my first visit I jumped into the water and everybody stopped me because I wasn't
wearing a swim cap. I asked why I needed to wear one and someone replied, because there
will be hair in the water. I said, but I have no hair, but I had to abide by the rules
anyway. I noticed a young lady wearing a swimming cap who had hair flowing out from the
sides and when she went in the water, her hair was all over the place but this didn't
matter because she was wearing the cap. Bizarre.
What advice can you give new chefs coming to Japan for the first time?
No, just be open-minded and when you deal with Japanese people, be humble, because I think
it's difficult for many Japanese to cope with the fact that the world is getting smaller.
I've tried to be very polite and they treat me the same way. I've seen some chefs come and
act like they were kings of society. You should think a bit about how different this
culture is so you can get the most out of it.
How can one have a happy life in Japan?
I think you need to have a clear idea about what you are doing here, learn how to
compromise, because there is a very different culture here. And always remember it's your
choice to be here.
Niels Frederik Walther spoke to Maki Nibayashi.
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