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LIFE IN JAPAN
Niels Frederik Walther

Niels Frederik Walther
Photo by Maki Nibayashi

Occupation:
Chef for the Danish Ambassador

Time in Japan:
Eight months



Where are you from?

Denmark.

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 experience.

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 beautiful.

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.


Do you know an interesting person in Tokyo? If so, email us at maki@tokyoclassified.com

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350: Kate Smurthwaite
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317: Niels Frederik Walther
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Issues 250-299

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