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 Ambassadors residence
in Kuala Lumpur, hes spent the last thirty years ensconsed in the kitchens of the
Imperial Hotel. Growing up he never thought about a kitchen career but the hotels
legendary chef Murakami, a friend of his uncles, 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 hotels premiere French dining spot.
interior of Les Saisons
at the hotel since the seventies, how have things changed since you started?
Not much has changed in our cooking style because were 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 dont really follow trends Ive 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
dont 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 dont like something
theyll tell you straight away.
You worked at
the Japanese ambassadors residence in Kuala Lumpur for two years, how did you find
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.
in French cuisine, but did working for the ambassador mean you had to cook more Japanese
Not really. We designed the menu to suit the guests itinerary and what theyd
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.
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.
your culinary hero?
I really admire Michel Bras who has a three Michelin starred restaurant in Aveyron in
your favorite ingredient?
Truffles. Later in the year Im 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
your signature dish?
I dont 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 thats where I can be the most creative.