Evans M. Asare

Evans M. AsareOccupation:
Chef / co-owner O Charleys Cajun Restaurant
Time in Japan:
6 years

I learned how to cook cajun food during two years I spent in Louisiana. I had been working as an assistant chef at a steak house in Nashville, Tennessee and I was transfered to Shreveport, Louisiana to start up a new restaurant there which was another steak house but which would also be serving cajun food. I had no idea about cajun food at that time and I was thinking ' am I going to do?' Fortunately the local people were very good, so I could learn from them. There was one old lady especially who worked in the kitchen, I called her my Cajun Mama, who taught me how to cook everything: gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, everything.

It was while I was working in the US that my father died, so I had to return to Ghana. After the funeral I decided that I wanted to try somewhere new. I went to Hong Kong and that was where I met my wife, Akiko, and that's how I came to Japan. It didn't take long to realize that there aren't many cajun restaurants in Tokyo, so I said, "Hey, why not? Let's give it a try."

The hardest thing about starting a cajun restaurant here was that the Japanese basically had no idea about what cajun food was or where it came from. A lot of people thought cajun was a country. They'd come in and ask us where it was. We did have one customer who came in and seemed to know something about the food but then he started insisting that it came from Missouri and wouldn't hear of it coming from Louisiana. In the beginning, a lot of people would look at our menu outside and then pass on, but a few people took a chance and that was a start.

We always knew that people's lack of awareness about the food would be a problem. Akiko wanted to start up a steak house, because like Italian or Mexican food, it is well known and it would have been easier to get started. But I wanted to do something different, I wanted the challenge and I love this food so much that I was determined to try.

The food we serve here is 100% cajun. I refused from the start to adjust it to suit other people's tastes. If you like it, great, I'm very happy. If you don't, well... At first the Japanese customers found it very spicy, but they kept coming back again and again, and now they are asking me to make it spicier for them. We have a lot of regular customers.

An other problem we had early on was that I couldn't get the spices I needed sent from Louisiana. The spice company just said "sorry, we can't sent them direct to you in Japan." So I mix all of the spices I use here myself, they're all my own recipies, just like I used to make back in Shreveport.

We usually arrive here at about 8 or 9 am to start preparing the food for the day. We open at 11:30 and close the door at 10:30, usually leaving around 11 pm. Sometimes I'm cooking all day without a break even to eat. I just go and go until we close. I've worked in a lot of restaurants and even though it's a lot of work, this is the best for me, because it's our own place and there's no one telling me what to do. We also get to meet a lot of interesting people with all kinds of backgrounds. People come from all over Tokyo to eat here. We have one customer who is president of a computer company who comes all the way from Akasaka just to eat here, and we've had others from Shibuya, Ikebukuro, all over.

I'd like to go back to America, but just for a holiday, you know, just to see whats cooking and to show them my spices. After three years of very hard work, the business is running nice and smoothly now and I feel very settled in Japan. When we first opened here in Machida, we had no idea if we'd make it this far, but here we are. After all of the doubt in the beginning, that's very satisfying.

Is O Charleys here to stay? Well, at least until I can't cook anymore.

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