Q&As with Jun Tanaka
Jun Tanaka has been head chef of Pearl restaurant in London since 2004. Before that he worked for such esteemed chefs as Albert Roux and Marco Pierre White. Jun presented the C4 series – Cooking It – and has featured on UKTV’s Market Kitchen and the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen.
You’re of British and Japanese origin yet your cooking style is distinctly French – what took you down this route?
When I started cooking, I only wanted to work in the best restaurants and back then all the top restaurants were French. It is completely different now, you have a much more diverse selection of fine dining restaurants from Indian to Chinese. But if I were to start all over again, I would still choose French cuisine.
Do you think that certain cuisines are more versatile to cook that others? If so, which ones and why?
I do think that French cuisine is one of the most versatile as there are so many different regional styles. Each of the 22 regions of France have a very different and unique culinary repertoire.
You focus on seasonal ingredients but do you have particular ingredients you especially enjoy working with?
I particularly enjoy cooking with seasonal produce that is only available for short periods of time like ceps, wild salmon, white peaches and wild asparagus. I feel like I need to make the most of it when they are around.
How do you feel about fusion food, such as combining eastern flavours with western? Should there be a distinct separation or should styles be mixed up and adapted?
I am not a fan of fusion food – not because I don’t believe in it but more because there are so many bad examples. To cook fusion food successfully the chef has to have a real understanding of both eastern and western cuisines, which is extremely rare.
You trained with some of the best chefs in the UK, such as Marco Pierre-White – what did you learn what to do and (perhaps more importantly) what not to do from such characters?
I learnt what not to do pretty damn quickly; you had to if you wanted to last! But it was always more about what you had to do. When you were in the kitchen, nothing else mattered apart from the food… it had to be perfect – no excuses!
Now that you’re a head chef what do you pass on to your colleagues?
During my years of training I worked in tough, aggressive kitchens. This was something I did not want in my kitchen when I was the head chef. I believe that I show that a kitchen can be run successfully and efficiently without the screaming and swearing. The chefs that work for me for a period of time definitely adopt this style of management.
How important is a coveted Michelin star to you a) personally, and b) to ‘sell’ a restaurant?
There is absolutely no doubt that I would still love to gain a Michelin star. I was definitely more obsessed about it eight years ago – I have mellowed out about it now. The most important thing is that the customers leave happy and the restaurant makes a profit. If we can do that and gain a star I would be very happy. I am not convinced that a gaining a star increases the business of a restaurant; saying that going from one to two stars definitely makes a difference. Having a star puts a restaurant in a different league from the multitude of other restaurants, which can only be a good thing.
You were involved in this year’s Taste Festival – what makes Taste different to other food festivals?
For me, Taste is by far the most exciting food festivals of the year. Where else do you have 40 of London’s top restaurants all in one place? If that wasn’t enough the chefs of the restaurants are all there at the festival. It’s outdoors in Regents Park, beautifully laid out and has a fantastic buzz about it. Every year I fast for a week before the festival just to make sure that I can eat everything that I want!
Your new book ‘Simple to Sensational’ is a refreshing take on the traditional cookbook – what inspired you to take this tack?
I had the idea for the book after teaching a group of novices how to cook restaurant quality food. Obviously I could not start with anything too complicated, so I would begin with a very basic recipe and gradually build on it as their confidence grew. The book works in exactly the same way; the simple recipes are very straight forward-something and anyone can cook them. Then once you have learned the first recipe it is only a few short easy steps to the sensational version.
Buy Jun’s book
How does being a chef fulfil you?
I honestly cannot think of anything better than being able to work with fantastic produce every single day and create something with them.