Photos by Matt Wilce
Matt Wilce lunches with
charismatic Chinese chef Sohzoh Miyamoto
Sohzoh Miyamoto may have started out washing
ramen bowls, but he' risen to become one of Japan's most successful and well loved
Chinese chefs. Currently the resident chef at the Tokyo Bay Hilton's Dynasty restaurant,
Miyamoto is a regular face on TV shows, has won the popular "TV Champion" show
three times and has come up against the "Iron Chefs" on several occasions. The
native of Furubira, in rural Hokkaido, found time between live broadcasts from his kitchen
to share his food philosophy and serve up some chit-chat along with the charshu.
How did you become a chef?
I'm from Hokkaido, and I wanted to come to Tokyo, but also my mother had been sick and I'd
been doing a lot of cooking at home. When I got to Tokyo, on a group employment project, I
started working in a ramen shop. I wasn't even cooking at that time, just washing dishes
and delivering. One of my co-workers happened to be from Shanghai, and he decided to start
his own restaurant - when he left, I went with him.
Why did you choose to specialize in
Chinese cooking, and why Shanghai cuisine?
If I'd been working at a Japanese restaurant, I would probably have ended up being a
Japanese chef. It was just by chance I ended up specializing in Chinese food because of my
first boss. At that time [30 years ago] restaurants were mostly Shanghai- or Peking-style
so that's why we concentrated on Shanghai specialties, but now Cantonese is more popular,
especially in hotels. I was mostly friendly with chefs who'd come from Shanghai, and I
realized that their style suits me better - I particularly like nikomi (a hodgepodge stew)
and shark fin.
selection of delicious appetizers start Miyamoto's summer Power Up China Lunch
Could you explain the difference between
the southern and northern Chinese cooking styles?
The main difference is in the ingredients. In the north they use a lot of preserved foods,
such as dried mushrooms and shark fin, and mountain produce. The south has a lot more
choice when it comes to fresh vegetables and more seafood.
What's your favorite ingredient?
I really like preserved ingredients such as shark fin and namako (sea cucumber).
The procedures for reconstituting them are really fascinating to me - it takes two weeks
to prepare dried sea cucumber and shark fin properly.
What's your signature dish?
Probably nikomi. It's a little heavy for lunch but in my dinner menus I always have two
kinds - usually fish or shark fin, which are my favorites.
What inspires you?
Going to other people's restaurants and eating different foods. I went to Nobu the other
week while he was visiting - we have a mutual friend who introduced us. I really like the
freshness of his menu. The dish I liked best was warm avocado with eel and foie gras with
a black pepper sauce. The thing that impressed me most was that although we ordered the
course menu, we both got different desserts. That kind of thought for customers is really
important. Probably Nobu is like me and tries to imagine the meal from the customers'
point of view and imagines what will please them - it's only by doing that that you can
improve your cooking.
with fire in Dynasty's kitchen
You've won many cooking awards - which is
the most memorable?
Even though I only came second, I'd have to say the International Chinese Cuisine Contest
held in Shanghai in 1992, which was the first time I competed overseas. My friend
Wakiya-san and Kenichi Chin [two of Japan's top Chinese chefs] were also there, and it was
a really enjoyable experience.
Recently new style Chinese and fusion
have become popular. What do you think of them?
I like it. Today the dish I cooked for you was French influenced [asparagus wrapped in
beef with a handmade XO sauce], and I think as long as the final dish tastes good, mixing
styles is fine. Of course it's important to preserve traditional cooking styles, but
fusion appeals to young people and is a good way to introduce them to traditional elements
and new foods.
|The Shanghai prix fixe lunch
allows diners to select their own menu of tasty treats
Courtesy of the Tokyo Bay Hilton
What other style of cooking most
interests you at the moment?
I'm interested in moving away from cooking everything in a wok, and I'd like to use the
oven better and more often. I'd like to find a way of serving properly so that hot dishes
arrive hot and chilled dishes arrive cold, especially when cooking for a large number. At
the moment, I'm especially influenced by Italian cooking, especially the idea of starting
a Chinese menu with a salad. Italian cooking is so popular because it provides volume and
good value - especially with large fresh salads. Lunch is a time for relaxing and having
fun, so I wanted to start the menu for my current prix fixe lunch with a dish that
surprises people with a large quantity of Chinese dishes influenced by Italian-style
salads. Buffet-style meals are very popular because they offer diners volume at a
reasonable price, but producing a good Chinese buffet is difficult. My idea was to give
customers a menu that offered quantity as well as the freedom to choose each course at a
How do you like to eat your gyoza?
I guess because I used to work in a ramen shop I like them fried so that they have a
crispy base. They put starch in the water so that the bottom goes like senbei (rice