Simplicity is synonymous with Japanese culture: art, design, fashion, electronics, gardening, even flower arranging.
From a carefully crafted bento box to a plate of delicate sashimi slices, balance and moderation is key to the Japanese culture with every element and detail precise and accounted for. And it’s no different with food.
From a historical perspective Japanese serving style traditionally avoids different flavoured dishes touching each other on a single plate, so individual dishes are given their own plates, or are partitioned using leaves. This developed into a cuisine experience where each diner samples small portions, of a variety of flavours each beautifully presented. A discipline in moderation and graceful self-control.
He might be the rock star of Japanese cuisine in Australia but Sokyo executive chef Chase Kojima had an unglamorous start to his career in food – being ordered about by his “very scary” master sushi chef father Sachio at their family restaurant in the Richmond District of San Francisco.
When he was about 19 Chase left San Francisco, moving to Las Vegas to join a restaurant chain boasting 32 venues around the world. It would become the launching pad for Kojima’s stellar career which took him from Nevada to Dubai to London to Los Angeles to The Bahamas and now to Sydney, where he has found a very happy home in one of the city’s most popular Japanese restaurants.
Chase admits being a Japanese chef in Australia requires “enhancing a little bit more” both with the flavour of dishes and their presentation. “It’s the same traditional dish you would get in Japan but I will need to add bold flavours more obvious savoury and sweet notes," Chase said.
The chef’s major dilemma is balancing that desire for simplicity with meeting a customer’s expectations for value. In Western culture after all the size of a meal is often equated with value.
“If I was to open a restaurant and I just did Japanese food, like straight up [Japanese], it won’t get popular,” he said.
When it comes to Japanese style dining equating with moderation and restraint, Chase noted that the progress and size of dishes is very different from Western cuisine.
Chase also said that one of the great benefits of Japanese food is that people can choose to eat as much or as little as they like.
“You go to a normal restaurant you would probably have entrée, main and dessert,” he said. “Whereas if you come to a Japanese restaurant you’re having almost ten courses, but at the end of the day you’re paying the same. That adds that fun part I think,” he said.
So where does Kojima like to eat when he’s not overseeing his team in the kitchen? “I really like simple food. I hate the word ‘authentic’, but when I’m looking to eat something that I want to enjoy I go to simple restaurants where there is actually a chef. It makes a big difference to me,” Chase said, “You can taste the hard work of the chef in simple dishes.”