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Courtesy of the Imperial Hotel

Matt Wilce and French chef Toshiaki Uchida enjoy a tęte-Etęte at the Imperial Hotel.

Chef Toshiaki Uchida is what you might call a loyal company man. Apart from a two-year stint at the Ambassador’s residence in Kuala Lumpur, he’s spent the last thirty years ensconsed in the kitchens of the Imperial Hotel. Growing up he never thought about a kitchen career but the hotel’s legendary chef Murakami, a friend of his uncle’s, piqued his interest and made him a job offer when he graduated from high school. After starting out making soups and sauces he progressed through the culinary ranks to his current position as head chef of Les Saisons, the hotel’s premiere French dining spot.

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The sumptuos interior of Les Saisons

You’ve worked at the hotel since the seventies, how have things changed since you started?
Not much has changed in our cooking style because we’re a very traditional hotel. Actually the major change has been personal. Before I joined the hotel I was really thin but when I became a chef I put on a lot of weight. I ended up having slim down a bit because I thought it would look bad if I was too fat! Because of that I decided to use less butter and cream and substitute more olive oil and healthier ingredients into my recipes. The only other major change was when the Osaka branch of the Imperial Hotel opened. I was down there for five years and just returned to Tokyo this April. Even though we don’t really follow trends I’ve noticed that the cycle of trends here is very fast. Now, Asian food has become very popular.

So do you do any French-Asian fusion?
No, I stick to authentic French. I might incorporate the odd Japanese ingredient but I don’t arrange it in a Japanese manner.

Is there any difference between customers in Osaka and Tokyo?
Not much but the Kansai customers are more honest and if they don’t like something they’ll tell you straight away.

You worked at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Kuala Lumpur for two years, how did you find that?
It was nice to do everything from the shopping to the clearing up for a change but because there were only two of us in the kitchen we used to get very busy when dignitaries from Japan came over. The busiest period was when Prime Minister Nakasone came and then a week later Finance Minister Takeshita visited.

You specialize in French cuisine, but did working for the ambassador mean you had to cook more Japanese food?
Not really. We designed the menu to suit the guests’ itinerary and what they’d been eating at their other engagements and switch between Japanese and Western menus depending on the occasion.

How would you describe the food at Les Saisons?
The atmosphere here is Provencal-we had an interior designer come over from France to create our look-but the food is really seasonally based classic French cuisine.

Which is your favorite region of France?
I like Nice and the South, especially the atmosphere there and the fresh seafood. Of course, I love Paris too, but if I had to choose it would be Nice.

Have you cooked for anybody famous recently?
Hashinosuke [a kabuki actor] and his wife Hiroko Mita come here quite often. Les Saison seems to be more popular with politicians rather than actors though.

Who’s your culinary hero?
I really admire Michel Bras who has a three Michelin starred restaurant in Aveyron in France.

What’s your favorite ingredient?
Truffles. Later in the year I’m going to introduce a new dish of onsen tamago (soft boiled egg) with truffle puree-it mixes the Japanese traditional onsen tamago with a touch of French.

What’s your signature dish?
I don’t really have one as such, because the menu here changes every season. I particularly like foie gras steak, so I often include a variation on it in my menus. I especially enjoy appetizers and that’s where I can be the most creative.

394: Gourmet to go
Matt Wilce eats in.


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Matt Wilce and French chef Toshiaki Uchida enjoy a tęte-Etęte at the Imperial Hotel.
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